By most accounts, the Winona State University football team is better than its 1-2 record.
The Warriors - who were picked to finish third in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference - lost in overtime to Bemidji State and fell 29-26 to 20th-ranked St. Cloud State. The Warriors picked up their first win of the season in a 65-21 rout of Minnesota State-Moorhead last Saturday, and are looking to even their record in a 1:30 p.m. matchup today at Minot State University (1-2).
"We were very disappointed in the first two games," WSU coach Tom Sawyer said. "We really feel like we should've been 3-0."
Minot State University quarterback Zac Cunha, left, and running back Randel Barber are part of an offensive unit preaching ball security this week. The Beavers, who host Winona State University this afternoon, have 10 turnovers through three games.
Despite the losing record, WSU is the second-highest scoring team in the NSIC at 39.3 points per game. The Warriors are fourth in the conference and 22nd in Division II in rushing defense, allowing opponents just 92.7 yards per contest.
It all spells a tough homecoming matchup for MSU, which is coming off a 37-21 loss to Southwest Minnesota State. WSU's run-stopping, in particular, could be troublesome for Minot State. The Beavers pick up just 71.3 yards per game on the ground - 14th out of 16 NSIC teams.
"They're just one of those teams that's got a lot of guys down there close to the football," MSU coach Paul Rudolph said. "Whenever that happens, it's always tough. We've shown the ability to run the ball better, but I wouldn't classify us as a power-running team yet."
MSU has been more proficient through the air. Sophomore quarterback Zac Cunha has thrown for more than 200 yards per game, including 280 in the loss to SMSU. The Beavers are hoping to hit some big plays to keep the WSU defense honest.
"If you try to stop the run, we've got too many weapons at wideout," MSU sophomore Porter Sturm said. "You can't cover us all."
Senior wideout Wayne Peters is the Beavers' leading receiver with 23 catches for 227 yards. Sturm has 12 receptions for 169 yards, and Central Washington transfer Leon LaDeaux caught nine balls for a game-high 131 yards in his MSU debut last week.
WSU senior quarterback John Teigland has missed the past two weeks with a concussion and didn't make the trip to Minot. The Warrior passing attack hasn't suffered much, though, as freshman Jack Nelson has completed 35 of 56 passes for 550 yards in his first two starts.
"He's a good, accurate guy that's got a good motion and he puts the ball where it's supposed to be," Rudolph said. "And he benefits from a real solid line that keeps him protected."
Sawyer said the game could be decided by which team makes the least miscues. WSU is 14th in the NSIC in turnover margin (-1.67) and MSU is last (-2.67).
"If you take care of the football and have no penalties - that's really the thing that's hurt us and has hurt them, too," Sawyer said. "Obviously, we're both trying to play mistake-free football and I think the team that does the best job of that's going to have the best chance to win."
MSU will present the jersey of former player Scott Eagle to his family at halftime. Eagle, a former New Town-Little Shell representative to the Three Affiliated Tribes' business council, died Aug. 2 in New Town after an apparent drowning in Lake Sakakawea. He was an all-North Dakota Collegiate Athletic Conference defensive tackle in 1984.
Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.