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UND FOOTBALL: Sioux look for better start

On Grand Valley State's third play from scrimmage, Cullen Finnerty dropped back to pass. Surprisingly, receiver Terry Mitchell was wide open behind the UND secondary.

On Grand Valley State's third play from scrimmage, Cullen Finnerty dropped back to pass. Surprisingly, receiver Terry Mitchell was wide open behind the UND secondary.

Finnerty delivered a strike, and the Lakers were up 7-0. By the end of the first quarter, Grand Valley led UND 27-0 - a deficit that was too large to overcome.

"Everything went our way early," Grand Valley coach Chuck Martin said of last year's NCAA Division II playoff game between the Sioux and Lakers. Grand Valley held on for a 30-20 win, and went on to capture its second straight national title.

Grand Valley's quick start last year stunned the Sioux.

"In the first quarter last year, we were overwhelmed," Sioux senior cornerback Donovan Alexander said. "We played into giving them too much respect. This year is a different story. They're still the national champs and a they have a great team, but we feel confident with our defense."


The teams are headed for another Division II playoff game as the Sioux play at Grand Valley on Saturday in a second-round game. The game marks the sixth playoff meeting between the schools since 2001.

A slow start against Grand Valley in Allendale, Mich., is tantamount to a long, unproductive day, considering the Lakers have won a Division II-record 38 straight. They also have won 50 of 53 games at Lubbers Stadium since 2001.

The Sioux remember last year's slow start, but they're not focused on it.

"We're not playing a team that has won 38 in a row," Sioux defensive end Alex Cadwell said. "We're playing a team that has won 10 in a row."

UND's focus - defensively - is on this season, especially the last few weeks.

The Sioux defense, which had to work its way through nagging early-season injuries, has improved steadily in the past few weeks. In their last four games, the Sioux have surrendered 55 points.

"We're finding new ways to make crucial stops each week," Alexander said. "The whole year, it's been a tale of teams scoring on us in the red zone. But we're improving."

The Sioux defense especially is improving in the fourth quarter. In the last four games, the Sioux have allowed only 10 fourth-quarter points. A South Dakota field goal and a St. Cloud State touchdown, which came near the end of UND's 59-14 win, are the only fourth-quarter points allowed by UND since the middle of October.


Grand Valley's quick start in last season's game was a surprise, even among the Lakers.

But Martin doesn't expect another 27-0 first-quarter lead - by either team.

"Last year was a little crazy," Martin said. "Typically, our games have been tight through four quarters, with one guy making a play down the stretch.

"The start is important, but I expect it to be a 60-minute battle."

Martin also remembers UND's rally last year - almost as much as his team's quick start.

"Most teams, when something like that happens to them, will go away pretty quick," Martin said of the Lakers' 27-0 blitz a year ago. "No one on our side was surprised they came back."

Grand Valley defensive back Brandon Carr also wasn't surprised that the game wasn't over after the early blitz by the Lakers.

"They're coached not to quit," said Carr, an experienced defensive back with two interceptions. "North Dakota is better than any team we've played so far. And this is a playoff game. They fight hard. You either play hard and fight until there are zero seconds left on the clock or you go home. They have a bunch of motivated guys."


There is plenty of motivation for the UND, which has been knocked out of the playoffs by Grand Valley the last two years.

Grand Valley has won four of the last five national titles, and the Lakers could be on a streak of five straight championships had it not been for UND's win against the Lakers in the 2004 quarterfinals.

"You just have to find a way to beat them on the field," UND coach Dale Lennon said. "I told the team there is no magic formula that will win this game. It's us going there and beating them on the field."

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

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