'It's situational football' Dickinson State Football falls from NAIA top 25 amid early season struggles

Sep. 15—DICKINSON — In an unwanted homage to last season, Dickinson State has fallen out of the NAIA top 25 polls after game two in consecutive years. Despite the back-to-back season opening woes, DSU head coach Pete Stanton understands that the Blue Hawks are far from out of contention.

If last year is any indication of what is to come, DSU could very well win out the remainder of their schedule in the North Star Athletic Association conference and be the team to beat by season's end.

"I think the big thing is that we need to play more consistently. At times we play pretty well, but when it comes down to it, we need to make more plays," Pete Stanton, DSU head coach, said. "We talk to our players all the time about how we have to make game winning plays in the second half and our guys have not done that. Our opponents have, so we need to coach better and we need to play better and I think good things are ahead for us."

The Blue Hawks reigned supreme last season in the NSAA going undefeated, struggling only to find success outside of the conference. They are on a similar path this season, opening season play with back-to-back losses against Black Hill State University and University of Montana-Western. Both teams challenged Dickinson State's offense and holding the Blue Hawks to 16 points thus far. Stanton and his coaching staff did not shy away from the mistakes, but noted that the losses provided the team with a wealth of takeaways that will pay dividends later in the season.

"We want to always play the best teams we can and yes, there is always a risk of [losing], but I would much rather play a really good team than play a poor team and not have any idea where we are at," Stanton said. "We find out where we are at, we find out where we have to improve on.... The idea is to get better and I think this will make us better in the long run."

Despite the losses, Dickinson State's defense continues to show progress year-over-year and have allowed 20 points or less in each of the first two games — much more consistent and hard nosed than in years past. In the first two games, DSU racked up four interceptions and seven sacks, with senior contributions coming from defensive lineman Krew Mathern who totaled three sacks for a loss of 28 yards.

Had the offensive output matched the defensive play, DSU could be sitting on a 2-0 open to their 2022 season. Unfortunately, on the offensive side of the ball the team has yet to find their footing. The majority of drives this season have resulted in either turnovers or three-and-outs as the endzone has eluded both the rushing and passing attempts. Over two games the offense have garnered 585 offensive yardage, 194 of which have come on the ground, but have lacked the finishing touches needed.

"Our defense upfront has played phenomenal the first two games. They have gotten good pressure... except for just two situations in both games in the middle of the third quarter where we got a little tired on defense," Stanton said. "I think offensively it is just a matter of getting it in. You have to run the football and we haven't done that well enough, so we gotta try everything we can do to run the ball. If you can't run the ball, you're just not going to be successful no matter what you do."

The NAIA released its week one coaches poll on Sept. 12 and the Blue Hawks dropped from the listing after initially being ranked No. 16 in the preseason poll. Last year, DSU got dropped after the first poll of the season and didn't return to the top 25 until Week 7.

All eyes are on Dickinson State as they travel for their forthcoming matchup against Valley City State University in a non-conference pairing. VCSU will be another test for the reigning champions as they are the only other NSAA team to receive votes during the preseason poll.

Stanton spoke confidently of his team's chances, noting that he and the other coaches are eager to see where the season goes from here.

"If you look at the first two games combined, we had the football a lot. We drove the football, but we haven't been able to get it in the endzone when we have gotten into the opponent's territory," Stanton said. "I think it's situational football. Having an awareness that all we need to do right at this position is just get a first down, we don't have to score on this play and understanding those little things is going to really help us offensively and getting some points on the board and I think our guys are ready to do that."