History favors Duluth in MSU football season opener

Alex Eisen/MDN The Minot State football team goes through its warm-up drills at the start of a practice this week at Herb Parker Stadium.

Beatdown of the Beavers has been an annual tradition for Minnesota Duluth since the Minot State football team joined the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in 2012.

Not only have the Bulldogs never lost to the Beavers (6-0), they have won all six games by at least 26 points and have heavily outscored MSU, 263-23.

The Beavers know they have their work cut out for them if they don’t want history to repeat itself tonight in MSU’s season opener at Herb Parker Stadium.

“They have a lot of skill,” MSU head coach Mike Aldrich said. “We just have to be able to do what we do and try to minimize our mistakes as much as possible so we don’t self-inflict our own wounds. Kind of like what we did the second half against them last year, when we were at least able to play with them for a little bit to prove that we could be on the same field with them.”

History isn’t on Aldrich’s side either, the second-year head coach has yet to win a home game at Herb Parker Stadium. The Beavers went 0-5 at home last year and last won a home game on Nov. 12, 2016.

“The wins will come whenever they come,” Aldrich said. “It would be nice to get a win at home to get some momentum and some support here. Whether it comes now or Game 3 or Game 8 or whenever it might be, as long as we — using a coaching cliche — stay with the process and know (the wins) will eventually come.”

To combat the bad omens, MSU brings in a drastically overhauled roster this season after a hefty first recruiting class for Aldrich. The Beavers are planning on starting four seniors — senior quarterback Andy Jones, fullback Leroy Arnold, cornerback Kiante Goudeau and strong safety Chris Rivers — alongside 11 underclassmen.

Duluth plans to start 13 seniors, headlined by four senior offensive linemen.

“They have a great team,” Jones said. “Disciplined and a sound defense. So, we have a challenge ahead of us. But, me as a competitor, I love that. I love playing the best and I think all the boys are excited to be playing one of the best here at home for our first game. It’s going to be fun.”

Even at quarterback, where Jones appears to have the experience advantage over Duluth sophomore John Larson, Duluth still holds an edge.

Dual-threat Larson emerged as the Bulldogs starting quarterback in Week 4 last season and never looked back. He threw for 1,372 yards and 16 touchdowns and also rushed for 365 yards and three touchdowns.

Jones, an ex-transfer from Southern Virginia University, saw sporadic playing time behind six-year senior Zac Cunha last season. He played in six games, going 25-for-46 for 274 yards and rushed for 95 yards on 30 carries.

Yet, his experience with the program helped him beat out Minot native and University of North Dakota transfer Ben Bolinske for the starting quarterback job out of fall camp.

Another key position to watch is at running back with both teams rolling out freshmen tailbacks. The Beavers are going with the one-two combination of shifty 5-foot-6 Lee Webb and Kamryn Bradley. Duluth is unveiling redshirt freshman Wade Sullivan, who Aldrich is already familiar with.

“He was a guy I recruited pretty hard a couple years ago,” Aldrich said. “He is really good, so it didn’t surprise me to see that he was going to be their Game 1 starter coming off a redshirt season.”

The unknown mystique of the Beavers try to upset Duluth, a validated program with two Division II National Champions (2010 and 2008) and haven’t had a losing season since 2007, this evening at 6:30 p.m. following the Minot State women’s soccer home opener against Black Hills State at 3 p.m.

Alex Eisen covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.