Mavericks wary potential 'trap' game against Mustangs

Nov. 5—MANKATO — Some of the success of the Minnesota State football program is the dedication to the "1-0" mantra, meaning all the focus is on the game at hand and no looking forward to future opponents until the time is right.

But that "one game at a time" mentality gets put to the test this week for the Mavericks.

"I don't know if you can have a bigger trap game than this one," Minnesota State coach Todd Hoffner said. "We've just beaten two nationally ranked teams, and now we come home after playing four of five weeks on the road. If you lose the next one, it doesn't matter as much."

The Mavericks (7-2) host Southwest Minnesota State (4-5) at noon Saturday at Blakeslee Stadium. The Mavericks have only played three home games during the first nine weeks of the season, but after going 3-3 at Blakeslee last season, Minnesota State is 3-0 so far on the home turf.

"You have to go undefeated at home to be successful," Hoffner said. "We went 4-2 on the road with one of the toughest schedules in our league, but we have to finish this off."

The Mavericks were 4-2 after a road loss at Wayne State, and to get to the playoffs, after not making it last season, Minnesota State probably faced a win-out situation.

So the Mavericks embarked on a series of one-game seasons, and the result has been three straight victories, including impressive road wins at Augustana and Sioux Falls on consecutive Saturdays.

"Early on, we had to deal with some injuries, with guys in leadership positions not playing," junior linebacker Trent Carpenter said. "These last couple weeks, I think you've seen the culture change, and we're having a lot of fun."

The Mavericks are averaging 38.7 points in the current three-game winning streak, while allowing just 19.3 points per game in that stretch.

"(The defense) has been more aggressive and playing with confidence," Carpenter said. "We're taking the fight to the other team. In the first quarter against Augustana, we just had more energy, and we were partying after each play."

The offense has improved every game since quarterback Hayden Ekern returned from injury and Shen Butler-Lawson has established himself as the lead running back. The offensive line has found its rhythm, and the young receivers are getting open down the field.

"When the games are on the line, Hayden has been really good the last three weeks," Hoffner said. "He's taken the leadership role, and he takes a lot of pride in this. It's important to him."

The Mustangs have lost four straight, due in part to injuries to quarterbacks. Southwest Minnesota State averages 199.0 yards rushing, led by Jesse Sherwood, the top rusher in the conference at 148.7 yards per game.

"The best team doesn't always win, but the team that plays the best in a three-hour window on a Saturday does," Hoffner said. "As simple as that sounds, it's challenging every week. You don't want to live in a world of fear, but this is not one of the Southwest teams from the past. They're much improved, well coached and they run the ball; that's a recipe to be successful."

Carpenter said his biggest goal for this season was to help the Mavericks get back on track and become relevant again, both in the conference and region, after finishing 6-5 last season. Through nine games, the Mavericks are in position to win a Northern Sun championship and qualify for the NCAA playoffs.

If they go 1-0 two more times.

"It feels good to be back in this position," Carpenter said. "We're going in the right direction again, and we're getting back to what Maverick football is."

Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.