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Possible five-peat at stake for MSU football in Battle of the Big Lake

Alex Eisen/MDN The Minot State football sideline watches as senior receiver Lavante Bushnell tries to reel in a catch while sitting on the turf last weekend against Northern State at Herb Parker Stadium.

For a third straight week, the Minot State football team gets pitted against a fellow Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference team looking to capture its first elusive victory of the season.

The Beavers (0-2) find themselves in the same boat as they travel down to Bismarck for the seventh annual “Battle of the Big Lake” traveling trophy rivalry against the University of Mary (0-2).

Bragging rights are on the line. Minot State has held the “Battle of the Big Lake” trophy for the past four seasons. Last year, at Herb Parker Stadium, this was the only game the Beavers won, 41-28.

Keeping the trophy in Minot is the objective.

“It’s going to be a totally different U-Mary team than what our fans saw last year,” MSU head coach Mike Aldrich said. “Just different personnel, a little bit of different style of what they are doing and it will be an emotional game. Being a trophy game and basically being a Division II state championship game, it will be a fun game and a good battle.”

Currently, the Marauders-Beavers battle is the only annual football game in North Dakota between two NCAA members.

The two teams have played each other 27 times with Minot State holding a 15-12 edge. The “Battle of the Lake” trophy was introduced in 2013. The Marauders won the first two clashes, but it has been all Beavers since. MSU has won the last four contests by an average of seven points — a touchdown.

The Beavers came a touchdown short of beating Northern State last week, 14-10, after getting torched by No. 14-ranked Minnesota Duluth in Week 1, 52-7.

The Marauders, coincidentally, lost by that same score, 52-7, to Bemidji State last week. They suffered a 35-12 defeat to St. Cloud State in the season/home opener on Sept. 5.

“U-Mary is coming off of a couple of sizeable losses to start the year, so they may be trying to find their identity a little bit,” Aldrich said. “When you get down by quite a bit, which we have in the past, you start to piece some different people in there to see if that can be your spark. If that person can kind of get you going.”

The spark plug for Minot State so far has been freshman running back Ali Mohamed. The new face in the backfield has been on the cusp of rushing for 100 yards against Duluth and Northern State.

Mohamed leads all freshmen running backs in the NSIC with 164 rushing yards on 25 carries. Junior transfer Isaiah Hall remains MSU’s starting running back because of his experience and leadership, but Mohamed is making the most of his touches.

“They are different style runners, which is good, but they’re also both running backs, which is even better when you compare it to last year,” Aldrich quipped since the Beavers had to use wide receiver Lane Torgerson as a tailback last season. “We are getting productivity and consistency out of the position, and that’s going to take some pressure off (quarterback) Ben (Bolinske).”

A shaky start to the season sees Bolinkse ranked last in the NSIC with 171 passing yards with a completion percentage of 40% (22-for-55) and three interceptions.

That said, Bolinske is responsible for the Beavers’ lone offensive touchdown this season with a play-action rollout for a six-yard score against Northern State. He has carried the ball 23 times for 83 yards.

U-Mary’s offense runs through 6-foot-5 junior quarterback Logan Nelson with sophomore running back Bryan Lumsden in the backfield.

Nelson has connected with sophomore receiver Danny Kittner 11 times. But, all the big plays have gone through former Bismarck Century standout Kade Lynch (four catches for 108 yards and a touchdown).

The Beavers’ defense comes in after locking down Northern State in the second half last week, giving up zero points and 121 yards across seven drives.

“I challenged the guys, as far as what they want to do and how they want to play,” Aldrich said. “But, it still came down to the fundamentals of fitting our gaps right or making the tackles… They wanted to put the game more on their shoulders, and we got more aggressive with some of our play calls, which I think helped.”

It’s been 372 days since Minot State has won a football game. It’s been 1,807 days since the Marauders have beat the Beavers to capture the “Battle of the Big Lake” trophy.

Something has to give Saturday night. Kickoff at 6 p.m. from the MDU Resources Community Bowl in Bismarck.

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

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