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UND FOOTBALL: Ending with a sense of familiarity

VERMILLION, S.D. - On Oct. 14, 1922, UND played its first North Central Conference football game. The Sioux defeated South Dakota 7-0. Today, UND will play its last NCC game. The Sioux opponent, appropriately enough, will be South Dakota. UND and...

VERMILLION, S.D. - On Oct. 14, 1922, UND played its first North Central Conference football game. The Sioux defeated South Dakota 7-0.

Today, UND will play its last NCC game. The Sioux opponent, appropriately enough, will be South Dakota.

UND and South Dakota are the only charter members left of the NCC, which has been regarded as one of the premier NCAA Division II leagues in the country.

But times have changed.

UND and South Dakota both will move to Division I next season, the final setback of many in recent years that spelled the end of the once-proud conference.


The Sioux haven't talked much this week about playing their final NCC game.

UND is more concerned with the present than celebrating the past. A UND win will guarantee the Sioux a spot in next week's NCAA Division II playoffs. Also, a win in the DakotaDome - a rowdy venue where South Dakota has won 23 straight - will keep alive UND's chance of earning a share of the league title, which would be its 25th and fourth in the last five years.

UND is 6-1 in the NCC and 8-1 overall. UND is ranked No. 7 in the country and has won 10 of the past 11 games against 6-4 South Dakota, a team that is a long shot to earn a repeat trip to the playoffs.

The final NCC game between UND and South Dakota may be high scoring as both have prolific offenses. But the game likely will be won in the trenches, UND coach Dale Lennon said.

The average score in the last three games between the schools has been 39-25, with UND winning twice.

Both teams have playmakers.

UND's Weston Dressler and Ryan Chappell combine for 377.3 yards per game, while South Dakota relies on senior running back Amos Allen, who is 142 yards short of a single-season South Dakota rushing record, and quarterback Noah Shepard, who has thrown for 2,457 yards and 21 touchdowns.

"This game has the potential to have an offensive flavor," Lennon said. "They have playmakers on offense and it starts with their quarterback. He can hurt you with his feet and arm."


South Dakota's incentive

While UND is playing for a possible NCC title and a high seed in the playoffs, South Dakota has incentive, too.

A 23-game win streak in the DakotaDome is the Coyotes' biggest incentive.

"I'm hoping we can slow them down," South Dakota coach Ed Meierkort said. "They seem to be able to score at a much more rapid pace than we can. When they have command of the game, their entire offensive package is open. No one has been able to pressure them when that happens."

Meierkort said a big key for the Coyotes will be their ability to control Dressler.

"It's a nightmare playing against him," Meierkort said. "It's like playing against one of those guys on those X-box video games. He's got all those jump cuts. He's got speed. He's just one of those little guys who makes plays. He's one of the best players who we've played against while I've been here."

South Dakota's home turf and schedule - one of the toughest in Division II - may also be factors.

"We need to feed off the emotion of playing well in the dome," Meierkort said. "And one thing in our favor is that we've played a lot of good teams. We'll play hard."


2001 revisited?

In 2001, UND lost a regular-season home game against Nebraska-Omaha.

On the last week of the regular season, UND faced South Dakota and needed a win and an Omaha loss to earn a share of the NCC title.

"We're in the exact same scenario we were in 2001," UND coach Dale Lennon said. "We were one game behind Omaha and we needed some help. Augustana gave us some help."

UND beat South Dakota 48-7, while Augustana surprised Omaha 38-21 in Sioux Falls.

Omaha's regular-season finale won't be easy as the Mavericks play at 8-1 Central Washington, a team that can earn a share of the NCC title with a win. Sioux healthy

UND's health for today's game is relatively good for the 10th game of the season.

"We're doing OK," UND coach Dale Lennon said. "We're planning on playing everyone who played last week."


UND running back Ryan Chappell, however, has a dislocated right thumb. He suffered the injury against St. Cloud State last week.

But he's practiced all week.

Chappell was asked if he was going to play.

"Oh, yeah," he responded. "I've got another hand. I need only one hand to carry the ball."

Dressler in Harlon field

UND's Weston Dressler is one of 24 candidates for the Harlon Hill Award, which is presented annually to the top player in Division II.

The 24-player field was announced Friday.

There are seven players from the Northwest Region in the field of 24.


In addition to Dressler, other Northwest Region candidates are Joique Bell, running back Wayne State of Michigan; Brad Iciek, quarterback, Grand Valley State; Ben King, quarterback, Minnesota State-Mankato; Brian McNeill, running back, Nebraska-Omaha; Mark Nicolet, quarterback, Hillsdale, Mich.; and Mike Reilly, quarterback, Central Washington.

Last year's winner, Chadron (Neb.) State running back Danny Woodhead, is one of the six candidates from the Southwest Region.

The field will be narrowed to eight before the final three will be on hand for the Division II title game in Florence, Ala., on Dec. 15.

Selection show televised

ESPNU will televise the NCAA Division II playoff selection show Sunday.

The telecast is scheduled for 10:30 a.m.

The 24-team playoff field will include six teams from four regions.

UND is ranked No. 3 in this week's Northwest Region poll. The Sioux are in good shape for postseason play, regardless of what happens today in the DakotaDome.


A loss, however, could knock UND down in the rankings and send the Sioux on the road for the first round.

The top two teams in the region receive first-round byes.

This week's region poll has Nebraska-Omaha at No. 1, followed by Grand Valley State, UND, Central Washington, Ashland of Ohio and Winona State.

Winona plays Wayne (Neb.) State for the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference title in Minneapolis. That game could determine whether Winona or Wayne represents the NSIC in the playoffs.

Reach Nelson at 780-1268, (800) 477-6572 ext. 268 or wnelson@gfherald.com .

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