Grady Blewett and Luke Little earn NSIC All-Conference Honorable Mention honors

It was a season of ups and downs for the University of Mary and first-year head coach Craig Bagnell.

The Marauders finished 1-10 for the fourth consecutive year but had an improved defense that finished third in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference with 23 takeaways.

“Not going to lie it’s definitely hard some days when you just don’t feel like practicing and the team hasn’t won a game,” UMary junior linebacker Grady Blewett said last week. “But my love for the game and most of all my love for my teammates made me look forward to practice everyday because the energy at practice on the defensive side was always intense and guys were pushing each other.”

Blewett was one of two UMary student-athletes named to to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate All-Conference Honorable Mention team on Nov. 15.

Along with Blewett, sophomore wide receiver Luke Little also earned the honor.

Blewett finished the season with a team-high 70 tackles and had a season-high 10 against Bemidji State.

“It’s definitely an honor to be recognized by the conference for my efforts this year,” the Bozeman, Mont., native said. “But most of all it makes me want to work even harder to make first team next year.”

Little played in five games as a freshman but saw the field more this year in UMary’s expanded passing offense.

The Bismarck, N.D., native led all wide outs with 657 receiving yards on 40 receptions and four touchdowns. Little’s longest catch of the season was 75-yards against Northern State and his season-high receiving yards came against BSU where he finished with 199 yards. Two of his four touchdowns in UMary’s lone victory over the Golden Eagles.

“It really means a lot to me to get that recognition at the end of the year,” Little said Sunday. “We put in a lot of time and work into preparing ourselves for every season so knowing that didn’t go unnoticed means a lot and motivates me even more going into next year.”

Both Blewett and Little think they have room for improvement. This offseason Blewett will be working on becoming a better leader and his pass rushing skills.

“I’m just thankful I have one more year in this system to add to my skill set,” he added. “And hopefully do some great things for this program next year.”

Little would like to put on more healthy weight and fine tune his route running ability.

“I definitely have a long way to go until I’m where I want to be,” Little added. “I think that starts with focusing on the little details.”

The Marauders lose nine seniors to graduation but welcome back a lot of quality student-athletes who will get another year to find success in UMary’s new system.

Marauders Game Preview (Senior Day): Northern State @ UMary

Northern State (2-6) vs. UMary (0-8)

Time: 2 p.m. kickoff


Radio: KFYR 550 AM

Last week: UMary lost 48-16 on at road at Augustana (S.D.), Northern State is coming off a 35-7 loss to Southwest Minnesota State on the road

Vegas betting line: N/A but if I had to guess I’d say Northern State -21

Three keys to a Marauders victory

1. Last season UMary gave up 575 total yards of offense and a school record 66 points in its loss to Northern State. UMary does have an improved defense as they’ve held two opponents in the teens for the first time since 2016. But the Wolves have completely switched their offense from a season ago. Last season, NSU ran for 406 yards against UMary and just 169 passing yards, however this year, they are Top 5 in passing offense with 249.6 per game. The Marauders are going to have opportunities to create turnovers and I’m looking at UMary’s secondary. Eight Marauders have recorded an interception this year, which ranks UMary seventh in the NSIC. Junior linebacker Paul Gultipp leads the blue and orange with 30 interception yards and could see his second interception of the season Saturday (today) afternoon as UMary has forced multiple turnovers in each of the last five weeks.

2.  The Marauders have scored just one touchdown in the first quarter this year. Getting out to a fast start is a top key in order for a UMary victory. NSU is allowing 30.1 points per game this season and a league-worst 268.1 passing yards. Freshman quarterback Jason Hoekstra could have a breakout game this afternoon. Hoekstra is coming off his career-best completion percentage (49.1) against Augustana (S.D) and he’ll be facing another weak defense against the Wolves. Interceptions have been an issue for Hoekstra as he’s thrown at least one in seven games this year. Limiting the turnovers will be key to a UMary victory.

3. NSU gave the starting nod to quarterback Hunter Trautman last season as he started seven games for the Wolves in his freshman season. One year later, Trautman is eighth in the NSIC for completion percentage and third in touchdowns with 18. UMary’s defensive line needs to create pressure and make Trautman make quick decisions. The underclassman signal caller already knows this league but putting him into pressure situations is one-way UMary can rattle the St. Francis, Minn., native.

Northern State players to watch

1. Dakota Larson, wide receiver: In three out of the last four games, NSU freshman wide receiver Dakota Larson has finished with 120 or more all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. Larson seems to be Trautman’s favorite wideout and for good reason. Larson has the speed to break free from defenders and has a high football IQ. Larson has caught two touchdown passes in two games this season and leads the Wolves in receptions with 41.

2. Noah MacPherson, linebacker: The leader of NSU’s defense is senior linebacker, Noah MacPherson. The Menahga, Minn., native is eighth in the NSIC with 7.9 tackles per game and has recorded a team-high 63 total tackles this season. MacPherson has the ability to get to a quarterback and make plays when he does. Through eight games this year, MacPherson has collected four sacks and trails Jordan Rommes of Upper Iowa by two for a league’s best.

Velarde on UMary freshman quarterback Hoekstra: “I really like how he’s handled this whole situation”

Jordan Velarde didn’t expect his first season with the University of Mary to end two games into the 2018 season.

And as much as UMary head coach Craig Bagnell prepared for what-if situations in his first season at the helm, rolling with a freshman quarterback for the majority of the year wasn’t the ideal plan.

But Jason Hoekstra has held his own since Velarde went down with an ACL injury against Bemidji State.

“I really like how he’s (Hoekstra) handled this whole situation,” Velarde, who will have season-ending surgery today (Wednesday) said Tuesday. I’ve been in his shoes before getting thrown into the fire when you’re not even expecting to play a down all year.”

Hoekstra had his roughest start of the season Saturday against Augustana (S.D.) as he threw three interceptions and finished with his second-lowest completion percentage in seven games. The Marauders lost, 48-16 to the Vikings, however, there were a few positives to take away from Hoekstra’s performance.

Hoekstra threw for his second-most passing yards with 202 and tossed the sixth touchdown of his young collegiate career.

“I think with more experience that he will continue to become more confident,” Velarde added. “And become more adjusted to college tempo.”

Velarde said he’s been helping Hoekstra prepare for every type of defense and the two have their work cut out for them leading up to Saturday’s contest against Northern State.

The Wolves may be 2-6 but Hoekstra and UMary’s offensive line is going to have to keep an eye on Noah MacPherson. The NSU senior linebacker is eighth in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference with 7.9 tackles per game.

However, the Wolves defense is allowing 30.3 points per game, which is 12th worst in the league.

“I’ve been helping him by watching film and going over what we both see,” Velarde said about how he’s helped Hoekstra during this time. “I’ve tried my best to just be there for him and give him keys of advice and also being a mentor on the sideline during the game as much as possible.”

As tough as it is for Velarde to see someone else starting in a blue and orange uniform, he knows he’ll be back stronger and healthier next season.

“I think the biggest thing I can do is be the absolute best version of myself next year,” he added. “By understanding the playbook better then anyone else on the team and understanding I have to put in the work this offseason.”

“I also need to be the best leader and captain I can be for this team.”

Rants and Raves: Marauders struggle offensively but defense shows up in 17-7 loss to CSP

It was a good defensive performance but not a dominant one by the University of Mary in Saturday’s 17-7 loss to Concordia, St. Paul at the MDU Resources Community Bowl. The Marauders held the Golden Bears to 337 yards of total offense, which was about 21 yards less than their season average. CSP’s 17 points were also the fewest UMary has given up since 14 points to St. Cloud State in the 2018 season-opener. However, it was the Marauders offense that couldn’t find success. Here are the rants and raves from UMary’s seventh game of the season.

Rant: Coming into this game, UMary had been averaging 268.1 yards per game. But something was different about this game. CSP held UMary to just 150 yards of total offense as the Marauders never had more than 30 yards on a drive. More than half of UMary’s drives ended in three-and-outs (every single one but two in the second half). I didn’t get to watch the game but I did listen to it and I’m not sure if Homecoming weekend had any implications on the Marauders offensive struggles but Jason Hoekstra didn’t look like himself. Maybe I should take that back. He looked like a freshman. He played a level above what he was capable of in his first four starts but took a step back against the Golden Bears. Hoekstra finished 6 of 19 for 86 yards and an interception. He was also sacked four times (this is important for later).

Rave: Sophomore defensive back Jarad Zittleman is a defensive playmaker and he’s making an impact not with is interceptions but with a nose for hitting people. Zittelman had 18 total tackles against CSP, which included 11 solo tackles. It was a breakout performance for the Mandan, N.D., native as he mustard up just a season-high six tackles before entering the Northern Sun Intercollegiate North vs. South dual. Peep this video from 2017 when Zittleman (#24) laid a good hit on a Minnesota State Mankato running back.

It’ll be interesting to see how Zittleman grows as it looks like he’s already begun to continue the Zittleman legacy at UMary. Jarad’s brother, Brady was an important piece to the Marauders defense in the last few years and graduated in 2017.

Rant: UMary can’t survive another season without its top two quarterbacks. So, the Marauders offensive line has to step it up a notch from here on out. Hoekstra seems to be finding less time every drop back as UMary signal callers have been sacked 13 times in their last four games. Seven of the Marauders 12 offensive linemen are underclassmen, so I understand that there’s a learning curve for some of them but move your feet and stay in somebody’s way until Hoekstra can release the football. Now some of this rant can fall on Hoekstra for holding onto the football for too long. Those big bodies up front can’t hold their blocks forever but they are capable of working together.

Rave: On the flip side, UMary’s defensive line looked solid against the Golden Bears. The Marauders finished tied with a season-high three sacks and held CSP’s Dom McKinzy to zero passing touchdowns for just the second time all season. Junior Danial Hudrlik led all linemen with eight tackles. The theme for UMary is youth. Everyone knew that coming into the season. However, these underclassmen are performing every Saturday but as they gain more confidence, the level of play should increase to a higher lever.

Danny Kittner on UMary’s 0-6 start: “The mood in the locker room is live”

Freshman wide receiver Danny Kittner came into Saturday’s game against Winona State with 10 receptions and zero touchdowns.

With a banged-up starting quarterback in junior Jordan Verlarde, the University of Mary (0-6, 0-4 North) has turned to freshman signal-caller Jason Hoekstra in the last four games.

But the change in quarterbacks hasn’t given Kittner any less confidence in his ability to make plays.

The Gilbert, Ariz., native has caught at least one pass in his first six career games with the Marauders and last week, Kittner popped off for a breakout performance in UMary’s 54-13 road loss to the Warriors and hauled in a career-high five receptions for 55 yards and two touchdowns.

Kittner knew that kind of performance was on the horizon.

“It’s been there every game,” Kittner said Tuesday about his playmaking opportunities. “I’ve been open but this game our offensive line really I think pass protected the best they have all year giving Jason (Hoekstra) time to throw and when that happens me and him will connect for touchdowns every game.”

Kittner is a confident man that’s one of the reasons he was named All-Region in his final season at Higley High School.

Prior to joining the Marauders, half of Kittner’s eight receptions went for touchdowns and on defense, he collected 39 tackles, four interceptions and a forced fumble.

While he’s had a successful first half of the 2018 season, UMary is struggling to stay competitive in games.

UMary has started the season 0-6 for the fourth straight year and hasn’t put together a winning streak since 2014 when they won back-to-back-to-back games in October.

But when you ask around, Kittner and they Marauders aren’t hanging their heads.

“A lot of struggles and adversity will be dealt with, we knew that before the season and have already been dealing with a lot of it during this season,” Kittner said. “We knew that this was part of it, but the mood in the locker room is live.”

“We’re upbeat and all in. It’s a process and we all believe in it.”

Players that actually believe in the system is something I haven’t seen on campus for a while. UMary head coach Craig Bagnell walked onto campus earlier this year, laid out his own plan and UMary athletic director Dale Lennon bought it.

Spreading the offense out and letting a quarterback sling it around the football field does look sexy, I have to admit.

It’s going to take time to build UMary’s defense but Brett Holinka has the Marauders allowing its fewest points per game (223) since 2015 through six games.

In one day, UMary will welcome Concordia University, St. Paul (2-4, 2-2 South) to the MDU Resources Community Bowl for a 2 p.m. Homecoming kickoff game.

“(They are) a good team just like every team we play,” Kittner added about Saturday’s showdown. “They are athletic and it’s going to be a tough game. Hopefully, we can pull out the win and get our first one.”

Middle quarters doom UMary in Saturday’s 54-24 loss to Southwest Minnesota State

The search for University of Mary’s first win of the season continued Saturday as they fell to Southwest Minnesota State, 54-24 at MDU Resources Community Bowl.

The Mustangs used UMary’s offensive gameplan against them and senior quarterback Blake Gimbel was 21 of 31 for 356 yards with five passing touchdowns. Max Simmons finished with 12 carries for 119 yards and a touchdown as the junior running back averaged 9.9 yards per carry.

Here are five things we learned from UMary’s fifth straight loss of the year:

  1. Middle quarters aren’t kind to the Marauders —Scoring has been tough for UMary this season but putting up points in the second and third quarters has been even tougher. The Marauders are getting outscored 115-47 in the middle quarters of games this year and that’s due to mostly poor second quarters. Coming out of halftime the Marauders are making good adjustment but they have to figure out how to play up tempo for four straight quarters.
  2. Jason Hoekstra is holding his own — When Jordan Velarde went down during the Bemidji State game, every UMary fan and coach had their heart skip a few beats and not in a good way. The junior signal caller has now missed the last three games but backup Jason Hoekstra is holding his own. Other than Hoekstra’s four interceptions against Minot State, the freshman quarterback is playing pretty well in place of Velarde. Hoekstra finished 16 of 28 against the Mustangs with two touchdowns and one interception. Getting a clean pocket has been a challenge but Hoekstra has been doing everything possible to help UMary get its first win of the season.
  3. More like average “hush” — UMary hasn’t run the football particular well this season. Through five games the Marauders average yards per carry is just 2.9, however, that dipped to 1.6 against the Mustangs. UMary senior Colton Farmer was effective on the ground against SMSU as he finished with 11 carries for 47 yards and a score for an above average 4.3 yards per carry.
  4. Marquell Evans shines in third game — After getting three tackles in the first two games of the year, redshirt freshman defensive back Marquell Evans led the Marauders against SMSU with nine tackles (five solos). Evans showed strong awareness skills against the Mustangs and was flying around the field. Watch out for Evans to have a big second half of the season.
  5. Feed DeShawn — UMary doesn’t lack playmakers on the offensive side of the football. They just have to get those players looks. Sophomore wide out DeShawn Gay finally got some good looks against SMSU and caught seven balls for 107 yards and two touchdowns. His day was highlighted by his 64-yard touchdown. Gay is also looking like a gem on special teams. He’s averaging close to 25 yards per kick return and has collected more than 150 yards in his last two games. UMary head coach Craig Bagnell needs to get Gay the ball early and often moving forward.

Know the Foe: Marauders Gear Up for Battle of the Big Lake

No matter how this season ends up for the University of Mary, Saturday’s game against Minot State is a must win. The Marauders will travel to Herb Parker Stadium in Minot, N.D., and try to bring back home the Battle of the Big Lake traveling trophy after a three-year absence. There’s a lot on the line other than the trophy, both these NSIC North teams are looking for their first victory of the season. Here are four burning questions to get you geared up for Saturday’s 3 p.m. kickoff.

Is this a revenge game for UMary?

Yes but no, does that make sense? Listen, this 2018 team is miles different compared to the 2017 team. Every aspect of the Marauders football program has been flipped upside down and hopefully for the better. Yes,  most of the players that played in the 27-19 loss a season ago are on the team but the coaching staff has changed. This is a new era for UMary. The Marauders aren’t going to feed of the revenge factor, however, a win against the Beavers will start a new trend which will add a new revenge factor going into the 2019 season. Different team, different mentality, different style but the same goal: win the game.

How good is Minot State quarterback Ben Bolinske?

Before Bolinske came to Minot State in 2017, he redshirted his first season at the University of North Dakota. He was named UND’s Offensive Scout of the Year and then came back home to Minot due to the large abundance of UND quarterbacks. It’s always interesting when a Division-I transfer drops back into Division-II ball because you may think that guy is going to tear up the league. That’s not always the case. Bolinske is still an underclassman (sophomore) but hasn’t had the hottest start to his Beavers career. It probably hasn’t helped Minot State has been outscored 91-19 in its first two games. The 6-foot-0 signal caller is 15 of 25 this year for 209 yards and zero touchdowns. On the ground, Bolinske has been effective with his 144 rushing yards and one touchdown. After splitting time with senior Andy Jones, Bolinske took all of the snaps in the second half against Northern State. If the Marauders can put pressure on the young gun, it could force Bolinske to throw some bad passes, which means turnovers for UMary.

Will this game feature two of the best punters in the NSIC?

Absolutely. UMary junior punter Bailey Meyer is second in the NSIC in punting average (45.1) and has five punts of 50 yards or longer. Minot State junior punter Jose Luis Moreno has an NSIC high six punts of 50 yards or longer and is fourth in punting average (43.8). Meyer and Moreno have combined for nine punts inside the 20-yard line. If there was ever a game to watch just because of special teams it would be this one.

UMary has played in two completely different games this season. A close one to open the year and a blowout loss last week. What will we see on Saturday? 

I think we will see a much closer game Saturday compared to what happened to UMary last week against Bemidji State. Craig Bagnell is still getting used to his team and what they are capable of and he should feel confident going on the road. Minot State’s passing offense is at the bottom of the NSIC and its pass defense isn’t much better. The Marauders are right in the middle of the pack in both those categories and I give the advantage to the blue and orange. Even with the questions at quarterback, I think UMary walks away with this game and brings the trophy back to Bismarck. I think this will be a 27-20 type of game with UMary’s defense making multiple stops.

Five Freshmen to Watch Heading into UMary’s 2018 Home Opener

There were eight true freshmen that showed up somewhere on two-deep depth chart UMary released before its 2018 season opener against St. Cloud State on August 30. Wide receiver Danny Kittner was the lone starter but likely won’t be the only newcomer to see the field this year. The Marauders host Craig Bagnell’s former school Bemidji State this week in their home opener. Here are five freshmen to watch heading into Saturday’s contest.

Danny Kittner, wide receiver 

Kittner is listed as one of UMary’s four starting wideouts. In his first career game, he had one reception for nine yards. As the Marauders have switched to a spread offense, Kittner is going to see a lot of action this season. The 5-foot-10 Gilbert, Ariz., native is one of the shortest pass catchers on the team but his quickness makes up for that.

Reggie Scott, running back

The Longwood, Fla., native is an athletic back with good vision and patience. Scott had three carries for five yards and one reception for four yards against the SCSU. He’s listed as the backup running back to sophomore Jordan Beaty. Scott is a playmaker and has the ability to break loose for a long run and/or pass.

Max Askew, linebacker

A do-it-all type of linebacker, the Fern Park, Fla., native and showed in high school that he can play at the NSIC level. Askew had 91 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and one interception his senior season. He’s a small but stocky player and is backing up sophomore Dylan Anthony on the depth chart. But in Brett Holinka’s 3-4 defense, Askew should see some playing time this season.

Dallas Pena, center 

One of the bigger offensive linemen the Marauders have, Pena is a monster up front. The Surprise, Ariz., native needs to work on his quickness but can push a man upfield if need be. Pena is listed behind junior Rory Olson, so I’m not sure how much playing time he’ll see this year. The film I watched of Pena he was playing tackle but if someone does get injured this season, it’ll be interesting to see if Bagnell subs in Pena at a different position. In 2017, Pena won the Offensive Lineman of the Year Award

Chase Kopp, tight end 

Kopp saw a little action against the Huskies, which was good considering he’s backing up senior Colton Farmer. The Henderson, Nev., native has good size and height. In high school, Kopp was the kick returner for his team and adds some speed to UMary.  He’ll have to work on his blocking skills but learning from a player like Farmer will give him an advantage moving forward with the Marauders.

Marauders Football: Jordan Velarde’s first start compared to quarterbacks past

Thursday evening, Jordan Velarde started his first game for the University of Mary. Velarde, a junior from Blythe, Calif., is a little different compared to Marauders quarterbacks in the past because he’s a transfer.

The 6-foot-6 signal caller played for Chaffey College last season, however, he didn’t have the most successful sophomore season. Velarde threw one touchdown and eight interceptions in eight games with the Panthers.

But his first game with the Marauders was a success despite his one interception. Velarde made solid throws on the run and didn’t look flustered. His legs, size and arm strength should give UMary fans a tickle, too.

Velarde had one of the more impressive first starts in a Marauders uniform, some former quarterbacks did not. Here’s a list of past UMary quarterbacks and what they did in their first start with the Marauders:

Jordan Velarde
First Start: 2018 at St. Cloud State (L 14-13)
Year: Junior
Final Line: 18-of-32 (56.3%), 191 YDS, 2 (1 rushing) TD, 1 INT

Garrett Weissinger
First Start: 2016 vs Bemidji State (L 52-3)
Year: Freshman
Final Line: 2-of-8 (25%), 36 YDS, 0 TD, 1 INT

Colton Farmer
First Start: 2016 at St. Cloud State (L 41-7)
Year: Sophomore
Final Line: 11-of-21 (52.4%), 111 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT

Nick McCann
First Start: 2016 vs Northern State (L 52-7)
Year: Sophomore
Final Line: 10-of-25 (40%), 147 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT

Ben Jolliffe
First Start: 2014 at Winona State (L 42-34)
Year: Redshirt Freshman
Final Line: 18-of-30 (60%), 187 YDS, 3 TD, 2 INT

Zach Roberson
First Start: 2012 vs Bemidji State (L 29-21)
Year: Sophomore
Final Line: 28-of-44 (63.6 %), 307 YDS, 2 TD, 4 INT

Josh Edwards 
First Start: 2011 at Minnesota, Crookston (W 31-0)
Year: Freshman
Final Line: 4-of-7 (57.1%), 40 YDS, 2 TD, 0 INT

Craig Bagnell
First Start: 2010 vs Southwest Minnesota State (L 21-14)
Year: Redshirt Freshman
Final Line: 13-of-26 (50%), 207 YDS, 0 TD, 2 INT

Fear the Hook: Season Opener Loss Shouldn’t be a Disappointment for UMary

At first glance, casual Northern Sun fans probably looked at University of Mary’s loss and thought, “I didn’t expect anything different.” Even though the Marauders fell to St. Cloud State, 14-13 Thursday evening at Husky Stadium, this loss felt different.

Maybe it’s because UMary held a lead throughout most of the game, only trailing once with 67 seconds to play in the contest. Or maybe it’s because the Marauders had a passing touchdown and catch over 50-yards for the first time since it seems like forever. However, it’s only been five games.

Or maybe it’s because they competed and that’s something fans in the blue and orange aren’t used to.

Here are some general observations from UMary’s 2018 season opener:

  • Everyone talks about how improved and different the offense is going to look this year but Brett Holinka is turning this defense around quietly.  The Marauders held talented SCSU running back Gregory Lewis to just 34 yards on 11 carriers. UMary also picked off Dwayne Lawhorn twice as junior Paul Guptill and redshirt freshman Marquell Evans each had one.
  •  UMary junior quarterback Jordan Verlarde had a solid outing and completed 18 of 32 passes for 191 yards and two total touchdowns. He also threw an interception but overall looked in the Marauders offense. I really like the fact he’s a dual-threat guy and showed his speed on his 20-yard touchdown to give UMary a 7-0 after the Brody Riggs extra point.
  • The Most Valuable Player of the game, in my opinion, was UMary punter Bailey Meyer. The junior punter pinned the Huskies inside the 1-yard line once and hammered a 75-yard punt that may have gotten a few key bounces. Meyer had eight punts over 50 yards last season. You always hear coaches talk about winning all three phases of the football game: offense, defense and special teams. All three looked pretty good against the Huskies.
  • I didn’t agree with UMary head coach Craig Bagnell on a few clock management moves. The Marauders had multiple fourth down’s near midfield multiple times in the fourth quarter and decided to punt on every single one of them. They had a fourth-and-1 at SCSU’s 47-yard line and punted. They had a fourth-and-1 with 5:04 left at the 50-yard line and punted and then their next drive they had a fourth-and-6 at their own 48-yard line with 2:45 to play and punted. Now we can go back and dissect every single move that Bagnell made, which isn’t totally fair but those are three plays that I look and think maybe UMary should’ve gone for it on fourth down one of those times. Also, Bagnell going for two after the 51-yard pass and catch from Velarde to Tyson Carney was a mistake. Attempt the extra point and move on. This team has a long road ahead of itself but the ship is headed in the right direction.