After their second 50-point shutout victory of the season Saturday, BR-6 Augustana (SD) Football is already one win away from matching last season’s win-total just four games into the 2014 season. Their only loss so far was in overtime to BR-2 Minnesota Duluth by a score of 23-22 week two. With the team traveling to face BR-7 Upper Iowa this weekend, we’d like to take a look at how our preseason BR-23 has climbed into the BR Top 10, and look forward at how high they might get.
The Vikings finished last season 4-7, second to last in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference South division. They ranked near the bottom of the conference in most offensive categories: 12th in passing (179.7 ypg), 13th in rushing (112.4 ypg), and 12th in scoring (20.2 ppg). It was their defense that kept them in games.
That defense was almost a mirror image of the offense statistically — they finished top-three in the NSIC in passing yards allowed (193.8 ypg), rushing yards allowed (135.5 ypg), and scoring defense (19.5 ppg). Six Vikings were named All-NSIC performers, five were from the defense.
Four of those All-Conference defenders are back, most notably first-team senior linebacker Ben Skelly. So far this season, he leads the defense in tackles (38), tackles for a loss (6), sacks (3), interceptions (1), forced fumbles (2), and fumble recoveries (1). To say he’s been the MVP of the defense would be an understatement.
Skelly was named the NSIC Defensive Player of the Week two weeks ago after he registered nine tackles (3.5 for a loss), two sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception in the Vikings’ 48-17 win at Northern State. He has to be considered one of very few serious candidates for NSIC Defensive Player of the Year, especially since he’s the leader of the second-best scoring defense in the conference (10 ppg allowed).
With Skelly, preseason USA College Football first team All-American d-lineman Jake Lee, second team All-NSIC linebacker Brandon Mohr, and honorable mention All-NSIC DB Justin Brown returning to the field this season along with four other starters from last year’s squad, it’s little surprise the defense is so good. The real surprise so far has been the offense. They rank fourth in the conference in scoring through four games, averaging 44 points per game, and they’ve dropped 50 points on their opponent twice — week one against Minnesota-Crookston, and last weekend against the U of Mary.
The offense has been outstanding, and sophomore quarterback Trey Heid is the biggest reason why. He and Winona State sophomore QB Jack Nelson are tied for the most touchdown passes in the NSIC with 12, and Heid is the only quarterback in the conference who has thrown more than 100 passes without an interception. He’s been great at spreading the ball around too — six Viking receivers have at least ten catches, and five have caught at least one touchdown pass. Grant Gebhardt, Matt Gerry, and Matt Heller have been the most prolific receivers so far, each with at least 15 catches, 250 yards, and 3 TDs.
When Heid steps off the field during garbage time, the passing production doesn’t stop either. Redshirt freshman backup QB Chase Marso has thrown 15 passes in relief of Heid and completed all of them — a perfect 100% completion rate — for 170 yards and a touchdown. A quarterback controversy is probably not in the Vikings’ future, but it’s nice to know your backup can come in and lead the team like Marso has thus far.
Complimenting the passing-attack is the Augustana backfield-duo of junior CJ Ham and senior Dajon Newell. Newell is the starter, and has performed well when he’s been in (50 carries for 295 yards, 2 TDs, 10 catches for 72 yards, 2 TDs), but when he went down with an injury week one, Ham stepped in and didn’t miss a beat. The junior has 41 carries on the year for 260 yards and 5 touchdowns. He’s added 10 catches for 106 yards as well. Both backs have had a 150+ total-yard game this season — Ham against Crookston and Newell against Mary.
The Vikings have been impressive in every facet of the game this season, but it won’t be easy for them to keep that up. Their schedule gets a lot tougher from here on out. Augustana’s 54-0 win over Minnesota-Crookston week one was impressive but hardly unexpected — the Golden Eagles haven’t scored a point on the Vikings in five years. The aggregate score of their last five games is 270-0.
Augustana (SD) has seven games left on their schedule and five of them are against BR Top 25 teams, including BR-7 Upper Iowa on the road, and BR-2 Sioux Falls and BR-1 Minnesota State at home.
Here at HeroSports, we’re huge proponents of the axiom, “to be the best, you have to beat the best,” and Augustana (SD) has a chance to do just that, starting this weekend at Upper Iowa. If they can pull off the win they’ll be in third place in the NSIC South with only Sioux Falls and Minnesota State in front of them — both teams that have to travel to Augustana later this season. It’s still early, but the Vikings could match their win-total from last season this weekend, they would put themselves in excellent playoff-position going forward.