By Jeff Arenz
EXCELSIOR SPRINGS, Mo. - For three weeks, the Southwest Minnesota State and Pittsburg State, Kan., football teams have been practicing for a clash in the 48th Mineral Water Bowl.
File photo by Jeff Arenz
Southwest Minnesota State running back Tyler Tonderum (22) is tackled by a Winona State defender inside the red zone during a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference South Division game Nov. 2 at The Schwan Regional Event Center.
The intensity level will rise when the Mustangs (7-4) face the Gorillas (9-2), the winningest team in NCAA Division II history, at 12 p.m. today at Tiger Stadium in Excelsior Springs, Mo.
SMSU is 0-2 all-time in postseason games. The Mustangs lost NAIA tournament first-round contests in 1987 and 1990. Southwest Minnesota State, representing the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, gets its first crack to experience a bowl game.
Pittsburg State, which owns an all-time record of 672-331-48, is 2-0 in Mineral Water Bowl appearances. The Gorillas defeated Bemidji State 35-27 on Dec. 2, 2006, and knocked off Concordia-St. Paul 13-9 on Dec. 4, 2010. PSU has played in 30 postseason games overall.
The Mustangs are scoring 41.9 points per game and averaging 535.6 yards of total offense (288.5 passing, 247.2 rushing) this year.
SMSU ranks fifth in Division II in total offense, 11th in the country in scoring and 16th nationally in rushing.
The Mustangs roster includes one of nine national finalists for the 2013 Harlon Hill Trophy junior running back Tyler Tonderum.
Tonderum has rushed the ball 315 times for 1,979 yards with 18 touchdowns, ranking second in Division II in rushing. He also has caught 32 passes for 274 yards and one score, helping him rank third nationally in all-purpose yards (209.4 yards per game).
Junior quarterback Charlie Kern has completed 258 of 396 (.652) passes for 2,992 yards with 32 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also has rushed for 431 yards on 119 carries with seven more touchdowns. He ranks 21st in the nation in total offense (311.2 yards per game).
Kern has four receivers that have surpassed the 40-catch and 400-yard mark on the season. Senior Britt Wickett (5-10, 182) has hauled in a team-leading 55 receptions for 478 yards with two touchdowns. The Mustangs' big play threat is senior Anthony Dean, who has recorded 46 catches for 931 yards with 17 TDs. He is currently tied for second in NCAA Division II in receiving touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Jordan Cross and senior tight end Cody Condon have combined for 87 catches for 997 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Mustangs allow 35.8 points and 458.3 total yards per game (236.2 passing, 221.1 rushing).
Junior defensive end A.J. Page leads the Mustangs with 102 tackles, 15.0 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, four pass breakups and one interception. Senior safety Tank Bunkers has recorded 90 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Sophomore cornerback Donovan Woods also has made 59 tackles, with a team-high six pass breakups and four interceptions.
The Gorillas are scoring 42.5 points per game and averaging 483.8 yards of total offense (244.8 passing, 239 rushing) this year.
Pittsburg State ranks 18th in Division II in total offense, ninth in the country in scoring and 18th nationally in rushing.
The Gorillas roster includes a regional finalist for the 2013 Harlon Hill Trophy senior wide receiver/return specialist John Brown.
Brown, the big play threat through the air for Pittsburg State, has caught the ball 54 times for 1,046 yards with 12 touchdowns, ranking 26th in Division II in receiving yards and 16th in receiving touchdowns. He also has rushed for 100 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Tony Abenoja has completed 166 of 265 (.626) passes for 2,631 yards with 25 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also has rushed for 289 yards on 96 carries with four touchdowns. He ranks 45th in the nation in total offense (265.5 yards per game).
Abenoja has three receivers that have surpassed the 20-catch and 300-yard mark on the season. In addition to Brown, junior wide receiver Gavin Lutman has recorded 33 catches for 523 yards with three TDs. Sophomore wide receiver Marquise Cushon has 21 catches for 355 yards and three touchdowns, while rest of the Gorillas have combined for 62 catches for 769 yards and eight TDs.
Sophomore Jeff Seybold has rushed the ball 185 times for 1,266 yards with 21 touchdowns, ranking 22nd in Division II in rushing. He has caught 19 pass for 129 yards and one touchdown.
Defensively, the Gorillas allow 17.7 points and 332.5 total yards per game (187.5 passing, 145.1 rushing).
Pittsburg State ranks 27th in Division II in total defense, 15th in the country in scoring defense and 23rd nationally in passing defense.
Senior linebacker Nate Drieling leads the Gorillas with 107 tackles, while adding 9.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sacks, four pass breakups and one interception. Junior linebacker tyler Disney has recorded 89 tackles, leads PSU with 11.0 tackles for loss, including 3.5 sacks, and recovered four fumbles. Sophomore cornerback Keesten Terry has made 58 tackles, while the Gorillas sack leaders are junior safety Isaac Maslera (4.0) and Disney (3.5). Junior cornerback De'Vante Bausby has three interceptions and nine pass breakups and redshirt freshman defensive end Health Wilson has three interceptions.