With season on the line, UMD football stays confident
The UMD football team has faced a number of challenges in the first few weeks of the season. The Bulldogs were forced to give sophomore quarterback Ben Everhart his first collegiate start on Sept. 16 against MSU-Mankato after injuries to quarterbacks Mike Rybarczyk and John Larson the week prior. Everhart, who passed for 325 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Mavericks, said he felt confident from the opening snap.
“Really from the first snap I wasn’t too nervous out there,” Everhart said. “Being poised out there and having a presence in the huddle when the bullets are flying is a big deal.”
Junior wide receiver Jason Balts, who had 8 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown in the 38-23 loss to MSU-Mankato, said the wide receivers take responsibility for taking pressure off the quarterback.
“It’s unfortunate with Mike and John getting hurt but Ben stepped up and he’s a tremendous leader, so as a receiver that’s reassuring knowing the next guy up is prepared and ready to go,” Balts said. “We’re doing all that we can to make sure we’re in the right spot, running the right routes, and executing the game plan as asked so it takes a little burden off the quarterback.”
Even though four Bulldog quarterbacks have seen playing time this season, Balts has taken notice of their leadership each day. While the wide receiver acknowledged the situation the team is in, he said that the leaders of the team will be put to the test.
“I think our quarterbacks are younger so it’s definitely encouraging to see them lead by example first and foremost,” Balts said. “We have solid leadership in the upperclassmen and throughout our entire team, but it’s important to remind ourselves, especially when the season hasn’t gone as we wish, that’s when you really get tested as leaders because when your back is against the wall, you have to continue to press on, continue to do the little things right and have success day to day to make sure you’re in the spot you want to be.”
In UMD’s losses against Sioux Falls and MSU this season, they ran for -19 yards and 59 yards, respectively, while rushing for 249 yards in their win at Upper Iowa. Everhart knows the importance of establishing a balance on offense early in the game.
“Running the ball opens up passing too and vice versa really so we like to control the line of scrimmage and be able to run the ball,” Everhart said.
With a record of 2-2, the Bulldogs know that one more loss would almost certainly eliminate them from making another trip to the NCAA Division II playoffs. While the team is aware of the situation, the players are simply taking it one game at a time.
Balts was asked about the team’s approach going forward:
“Getting back to what we do well, the run game, the chemistry, making sure we’re doing things right in meetings, in lift, in practice,” Balts said. “It’s just reminding yourself to continue to do that because you do get frustrated when you see your record at two losses, but one game at a time, we all have the knowledge that we need to win out if we want to put ourselves in the best spot.”
Everhart has no shortage of confidence in himself as he prepares for his next chance to play under center.
“I feel good. I think the team should be more confident in me maybe because I’ve proven myself,” Everhart said. “Probably a big part is having people believe in you, so hopefully we just come into the game with a lot of confidence.”
The Bulldogs will host NSIC rival St. Cloud State Huskies after a short week on Thursday, Sept. 28 at James S. Malosky Stadium.
Photo courtesy of Brett Groehler