PSU to face Mustangs in Mineral Water Bowl
Michael Bauer | sports editor
The last time senior linebacker Nate Dreiling and his PSU teammates were in the Mineral Water Bowl, he was only a freshman and the Gorillas were coming off a disappointing 2010 regular season.
Dreiling can recall the weather from that day’s 13-9 victory over Concordia-St. Paul University.
“All I remember was that it was really cold that day,” he said.
Fast forward three years and one national championship later, Dreiling and the rest of the Pitt State seniors will get a chance to end their careers the same way it began.
With temperatures expected to be as low as 19 degrees this Saturday, the Gorillas (9-2, 7-2 in conference) will take on the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs (7-4) in the Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs, Mo., for a noon kick-off this Saturday, Dec. 7.
For some seniors, the similarities of playing in the Water Bowl this year compared to 2010 are striking.
“There are some similarities. (In 2010), we were coming off a season that we weren’t too happy about,” said defensive lineman Joe Uzzel.
Compare that to this year when the Gorillas’ 35-21 upset to Missouri Southern State in the regular season final knocked them out of the top six in the NCAA Division II Super Regional standings and ending their chances of getting into the playoffs and a national championship.
But for the seniors, the opportunity to get to play one last time together still makes going into this week’s game worthwhile.
“Playing for Pitt State and being around everyone has been an honor,” Uzzel said. “It’s a big deal for me and the seniors.”
The Gorillas will get a chance to end their season with a victory for the fourth straight year in a row.
Unlike 2010, however, the Gorillas will be facing the Mustangs for the first time in school history.
Led by running back and 2013 Harlon Hill finalist Tyler Tonderum, the Mustangs have put together an explosive offense. Tonderum enters the contest with 315 rushes for 1,979 yards this season and 18 touchdowns. His longest touchdown run came on a 77-yard carry.
“They don’t do a lot of fancy stuff, but what they do, they’re pretty good at,” Uzzel said.
As a unit, the Mustangs are scoring 41.9 points per game and averaging 535.6 of total offense. SMSU ranks fifth in total offense in Division II and 11th in scoring and 16th nationally in rushing.
Pitt State’s defense ranks 61st in the country while SMSU’s defense sits at 144th.
“It’s going to come down to everybody trusting everyone to do their job,” Uzzel said. “If we play sound defense, we’ll have a good shot at success.”
Uzzel and Dreiling have both been named to first-team all-conference on defense. Dreiling has tallied 107 total tackles while Uzzel has compiled 37 and two sacks.
“It all comes down to tackling, really, and people running to the football,” Dreiling said. “We’ve done a good job of that this year and we’re looking forward to playing against (Tonderum).”
Already breaking the PSU receiving record this year, senior wide receiver John Brown has 178 receptions for 3,228 yards while junior quarterback Anthony Abenoja enters the contest with 2,631 yards passing off of 166 completions and 25 touchdowns and is second in school history for completion percentage at .642.
Uzzel may be a sixth-year senior but after not playing his first two years he, along with the rest of the seniors, have gone out with a bang each season. They’ll get one more chance to do that this Saturday.
“We’re going to give this game the amount of respect it deserves,” Uzzel said. “Going out on a winning note is important for the PSU seniors.”