The Golden Eagles will look to claim the State Farm Traveling Trophy in the Red River Valley Showdown for the first time since the 2013 season.
The University of Minnesota Crookston football team opens up the 2018 season Thurs., Aug. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Scheels Field at Nemzek Stadium against Minnesota State University Moorhead. The Golden Eagles will look to claim the State Farm Traveling Trophy in the Red River Valley Showdown for the first time since the 2013 season. The Dragons have won the last four meetings over the Golden Eagles and own a slight edge in NSIC play with a 12-7 mark since 1999.
Previewing the Golden Eagles
Minnesota Crookston is looking to turn the page on the last two seasons as they seek the program’s first win since Nov. 7, 2015. The Golden Eagles are in their second season under Head Coach Mark Dufner. Dufner did some retooling of the staff with new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Tom Miller steps into his new role after spending three seasons as the safeties coach, while Jared Hottle comes over from Dakota State University where he was twice named a finalist for the AFCA NAIA Assistant Coach of the Year. Sam Smith is the only other returnee from last year’s staff and he returns as the Special Teams Coordinator, where he helped Rod Stewart to an All-NSIC First Team nod as a kick returner and an All-American Honorable Mention selection. New to the staff in 2018 are Sam Gooding, Michael Hepp, Evan Brandes, and Evan Dahl, along with Hottle.
The Golden Eagles are led offensively by Rod Stewart (Sr., WR, Fort Worth, Texas), who was an All-NSIC Second Team pick in 2017. Stewart notched 47 receptions for 633 yards and five touchdowns as a junior.
Also returning to the fray is running back Kevin Evans (Sr., RB, Groveland, Fla.), who will look for improved run blocking after nothing 264 yards on the ground last season.
At quarterback, Jeremy Neuman (R-So., QB, Andover, Minn.) split the job last season and has been battling throughout camp for the starting position. Neuman threw for 566 yards and six touchdowns in his first season of action in 2017.
On the offensive line, Minnesota Crookston returns seven players who earned starts last season. Logan Moreau (R-Jr., OL, Lake Nebagoman, Wis.) is the seasoned veteran for the Golden Eagles.
Defensively, Minnesota Crookston returns a strong core from last season with seven starters back in the fray. On the defensive line, Logan Huso (Jr., DL, Eagan, Minn.) and Jerrod Miller (R-Sr., DL, Chicago, Ill.) were starters last season, with Devante Nutall (Sr., DL, Plymouth, Minn.), Ben Branscom (R-So., DL, Woodbury, Minn.) and Skyler Quinn (R-So., DL, Evansville, Minn.) also seeing considerable time.
At linebacker, Will Cross (R-Jr., LB, Turtle Lake, Wis.) will anchor the squad. Cross was slightly down from his freshman season in production in 2017 after earning All-NSIC Honorable Mention honors in 2016. He still was able to notch 79 tackles with three tackles for loss. Ali Alkhatib (R-Sr., LB, Rosemount, Minn.) is also back after leading the team with 86 tackles in 2017.
In the secondary, Minnesota Crookston returns the starters at three of four positions. Will Cole (Sr., DB, Compton, Calif.) anchors the group after earning All-NSIC Honorable Mention accolades in 2017 after picking up 85 tackles and three interceptions. Also back are Trevor Long, Jr. (R-Jr., DB, Brooklyn Park, Minn.) and Anfernee Cooper (R-So., DB, Fort Worth, Texas).
In the kicking game, Stephen Day (R-Sr., P, Eveleth, Minn.) is back after picking up All-NSIC Honorable Mention honors with a 38.3 average on his punts last season with 16 inside the 20 and a long of 77. Jake Newman (R-Sr., K, White Bear Lake, Minn.) turns his attention to kicking in 2018 after starting at safety for two seasons before injuries forced him out last year. Newman was the kicker for White Bear Lake High School. Jared McLemore (Fr., K, Lucas, Texas) might also factor in with the kicking game.
Previewing the Dragons
MSU Moorhead will be a relatively new look team from last year’s squad that went 5-6. The Dragons have just three players who ended the year starting in 2017, who are listed as starters on the offense. Defensively, MSU Moorhead returns five starters who finished out the year in the top 11.
Offensively, the Dragons will look to either Bryce Meehl or Jakup Sinani at quarterback. Meehl missed last season with injury, while Sinani threw for 1,030 yards with seven touchdowns. In the running game, Herman Gray is back after rushing for 360 yards and two touchdowns. The top returning targets in the passing game are Grady Bresnahan, who had 40 caches for 510 yards and five touchdowns, and Evan Moore, who notched eight catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. Offensively, MSU Moorhead averaged 157.7 yards per game on the ground and 253.4 yards per contest through the air in 2017.
Defensively, the Dragons will look to Aaron Doan, who had 56 tackles last season, along with Michael Strandm who notched 45 tackles for MSU Moorhead. In addition, Casey Paskey is back with corners Deiondre Taylor and Jerry Raye also back in the fold. The Dragons allowed 188.3 yards per game through the air last season and 149.0 yards per content on the ground.
1. Can the Golden Eagles get the ball in the hands of Rod Stewart?
2. Will the Golden Eagles get more
production out of the run game?
3. Will the defense be able to get pressure on the quarterback to force errors?
4. What newcomers will step up in week one?
5. Will the Golden Eagles get key turnovers in big moments of Thursday’s game?
Minnesota Crookston All-America Honorable Mention pick Rod Stewart is back to lead the way both in the return game and as a wide receiver. Stewart will begin a quest to chase down many of former teammate Adam Connette’s receiving records. He notched 47 catches for 633 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. In the return game, Stewart was one of the best in the NSIC and nationally with 28.3 yards per kickoff return with a 94-yard touchdown on the year. In punt returns, he had a 7.6 yard per return tally.
Minnesota Crookston senior running back Kevin Evans is poised for a big season for the Golden Eagles. Evans was the starter last season but didn’t have as strong of a season as he had hoped. The transfer from Northland C.T.C., had 264 yards on the ground as a junior for Minnesota Crookston. Evans will look to anchor what has looked like a much improved running attack through fall camp.
Two of the mainstays on the defense over the past few years have been safety Will Cole and linebacker Will Cross. Both players will keys for the defense going into the MSU Moorhead game. Cole was an All-NSIC Honorable Mention pick at safety last season after leading the team with three interceptions and notching 85 tackles. Cross is one of team’s most outspoken leaders from his middle linebacker post. The redshirt junior was an All-NSIC Honorable Mention pick in 2016. Last year, he notched 79 tackles and three tackles for loss. Both players will look to have big years for the Golden Eagles in 2018.
A big factor in any football game is changing field position, and punter Stephen Day will be integral in that role entering his senior year. Day was an All-NSIC Honorable Mention selection last season after averaging 38.3 yards per punt. Day had 16 punts inside the 20-yard line and 11 that went 50 yards or more, including a 77-yarder. Day will be a major part of the field position battle against the Dragons Thursday.