It’s D2 Football Championship Preview time. We’re just days away from the biggest showdown of the season in Kansas City, Kansas, where two squads will each make their first ever appearance in the big game. The 13-1 Colorado State-Pueblo ThunderWolves face the undefeated, 14-0 Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks.
Let’s talk a bit about how each squad got here, and take preview what to expect this weekend.
Saturday, December 20, 4:00 PM ET, ESPN2
We had the Mavericks ranked BR-2 at the end of last season after they were upset at home in the playoffs by NSIC rival St. Cloud State. We ranked them BR-1 in the preseason and boy have they lived up to that rank. Minnesota State-Mankato has held our top rank from first whistle to now, rolling opponents all season, including a 31-0 stoping of St. Cloud State in their season-opening rematch.
The Maverick offense, which has gone over 30 points in all but two contests this year, is hard to stop because it can attack in so many ways. Top RB Connor Thomas has ripped off 1,385 yards on the season (an average of 95.6 per game) and punched it into the end zone 13 times. Whenever he’s needed a breather, QB Andy Pfeiffer (693 yards and 8 TDs) and RB2 Nick Pieruccini (603 yards and 7 TDs) have given the Mavericks a three-headed monster in the backfield that defenses have yet to hold under 150 rushing yards. In fact,
Pieruccini has split time behind center with fellow QB Ricky Lloyd this season. The tandem has thrown for 2,874 yards and 32 touchdowns this year, with an astronomical combined efficiency rating of 166.7.
It’s no wonder the Mavericks have outscored teams by a total margin of 600 to 180 this season, racking up 100 more first downs and 2,000 more yards of total offense than their opponents.
Minnesota State-Mankato made its way to the big game by topping Pittsburg State 24-21 in overtime in the first round, routing Minnesota Duluth 44-17 in quarterfinals, and blowing out Concord 47-13 just a week ago.
Colorado State-Pueblo will certainly have its hands full on Saturday, but if there’s one thing this squad has proved all season it’s that it can win close ballgames. The ThunderWolves had close wins in the regular season by 3, 10, 8, and won their quarterfinal and semifinal matchups by just a field goal in each.
Riding an eight-game winning streak, the squad features a balanced offense that averages 180 on the ground and 227 through the air. Junior running back Cameron McDondle is ninth in all of D2 with 1,901 yards on the ground; he’s also punched it into the end zone 16 times.
On the other side of the ball, the stingy defense has allowed just 13.7 points per game this year. The defense is led by AFCA All-American defensive lineman Darius Allen with his 22 TFL and 14 sacks this year, junior linebacker Joe Rosenbrock’s team-high 99 tackles, and DB-duo Stephan Dickens and CJ Roberts with seven interceptions apiece.
To get to the first championship in school history, Colorado State-Pueblo blasted Angelo State 52-14 in the first round before escaping with a pair of tight wins the following two weeks: 31-28 over Ohio Dominican and 10-7 over West Georgia.
It’s been a magical ride for the ThunderWolves, who have only had a football program since the 2008 season. That was the year they were reinstated after a 24-year hiatus. Head coach John Wristen has been at the helm since day one — taking his team from literally nothing to the doorstep of National Championship just six years later. If it was a movie, you wouldn’t like it because it’s too unrealistic.
They have shown a ton of guts and tenacity this season, up to and including their two close playoff wins, but the Mavericks are a whole different animal. Mankato features a high-powered offense that could blow this game wide open early, and with a tough defense of its own, we see Minnesota State-Mankato going coast to coast with its BR-1 ranking and taking home the D2 crown.