The Southwest Minnesota State players and coaches who were involved in what transpired in the fourth quarter of last week's football game against Mary don't even bother making an attempt to hide their disgust or embarrassment about the Mustangs' performance.
Up 24-17 through three quarters, SMSU suffered a total collapse over the course of the final 15 minutes and ended up losing by 19. There was plenty of blame to go around, as the offense gained a total of 13 yards in its final five possessions and the defense surrendered 229 rushing yards to a team that had gained just 20 yards on the ground in its first two games.
Senior quarterback Tyler Peschong was disturbed by how his team unraveled down the stretch, calling the way he and his teammates sat back and took their drubbing from the Marauders "unacceptable."
"Over the course of a game, it doesn't matter who you're playing, you're going to face some adversity of some sort," Peschong said. "If you're down seven points in the fourth quarter, you have to be able to say, 'Hey, this is our game,' instead of folding up the tents. That's just not acceptable. That can't be the culture you accept as a program.
"Right now, I think sometimes when things are going bad that we don't have enough leaders who step up and say, 'We gotta stop what's going on and make something happen.' I think that's gonna change. It's gonna have to change."
The only way for the Mustangs (1-2 overall, 1-2 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference) to redeem themselves is by getting back on the field for a game, and the week between the debacle against Mary and today's road matchup against Minnesota-Crookston felt longer than most.
Facing a Golden Eagles team that's on a sad streak of 37 consecutive NSIC losses, SMSU has an opportunity to gain back some of the positive momentum it had built after a last-second win over Northern State in Week 2.
Augustana was coming off a loss to Mary when it played Minnesota-Crookston last week, and the Vikings proceeded to dole out their frustration in the form of a 61-0 thrashing of the Golden Eagles. The Mustangs say they aren't concerned with matching that blowout. They're just hoping to be proud of the way they played at the end of the day.
"We got to get that momentum started and we got to do it big, as big as we can," said senior safety Joe Stupka, one of two defensive captains on the team. "We're not focusing on winning by a certain amount, but our goal is definitely to come away with a W and come out with everyone performing at a level we expect to play at."
Stupka had an interception and five tackles against Mary and helped the Mustangs to a solid defense showing through three quarters. Then the floodgates opened and SMSU surrendered 26 points in the fourth.
The Marauders are a passing team, but they looked like they had a top-tier rushing attack against the Mustangs' defense. SMSU's opponent today is basically only a rushing team, ranking 151st in Division II in passing offense at just 92 yards per game.
Although the Golden Eagles have been a doormat in the league for years, they have a running back who is on par with the best in the NSIC. Senior Richard Haley (6-foot, 205 pounds) ranks 21st in the nation with 331 yards through three games. He led the conference in 2011 with 141.5 yards per game, more than 20 yards per game more than the next best back.
"He's one of the better ones in the conference and that will be a big challenge because we haven't shown that we're there yet as far as run defense," SMSU head coach Cory Sauter said. "We're going to be challenged early and often. I'm sure their back is going to get a ton of carries and find out early in the game if we can hold up. If we can't, they're just going to keep running it, keep running it and keep running it.
"That will be the challenge, there's no doubt, and our guys have to step up and be physical, execute what's called and make tackles when they're there to be made."
The Golden Eagles have been crushed in two of their games this year - last week against Augustana as well as in a 58-6 loss to Winona State in the season opener - but they showed they can't be taken lightly in their Week 2 meeting with Concordia-St. Paul. UMC jumped on the Golden Bears in the second quarter and held a 16-3 lead at halftime before CSP rallied in the second half to win 34-24.
Sauter said style points don't matter in today's game, which kicks off at 1 p.m. What he's looking for is his players to maintain a high level of focus, energy and execution for a full 60 minutes of football.
"I would be happy with any win," Sauter said. "After last week, we need to get our confidence back up, and one of the best ways to do that is to win a game.
"(UMC is) a dangerous team in the fact that Concordia played them and it was close deep into the fourth quarter. They have some guys who are capable of making plays, intercepting the ball, getting in the backfield and making tackles for losses. If we decide to just show up, we could easily lose or it could easily be a tight ball game."