Dec. 12, 2008

By Amy Farnum Novin

The University of Minnesota Duluth has had its ups and downs over the last four years, but throughout the journey there has been one constant for the Bulldogs – quarterback Ted Schalfke.

The fifth-year senior has seen the program go through many changes during his career – two different head coaches and three different offensive coordinators, not to mention a change in offensive playbooks every season.  But Schalfke hung in there, and is finally reaping the rewards of his consistency and patience.

After a disappointing 4-6 mark last year, the Bulldogs have put together an amazing 14-0 record and will play Northwest Missouri State in the NCAA Division II Championship game on Dec. 13.  

“For me, personally, the changes in the offenses that we’ve run maybe hurt us early on because we were more inexperienced,” said Schalfke.  “We went through the growing pains of having a new offense every year instead of just learning something the first year and refining it.  I think all of that has really helped me bring it all together this year.  I feel like those changes and tougher times were a blessing in disguise for this year.”

Schaflke, who has started 46 consecutive games in four years, has led the Bulldogs to not only the national championship game, but the Bulldogs’ first-ever NCAA playoff victory this season.  In the process, the native of Stevens Point, Wis., has turned in a 174.73 passing efficiency mark and set virtually every school passing and total offense record.  Schaflke is a Harlon Hill Trophy finalist, and recently became the first-ever Bulldog to be named to AFCA Division II All-American Team.

Of course, the humble three-time team captain credits his teammates for the Bulldogs’ remarkable season.  UMD’s offense is much more balanced due to the addition of sophomore transfer running back Issac Odim, and the improvement sophomore running back Brad Foss.  Plus, Schafkle is protected by three four-year starters on the offensive line, and redshirt freshman receiver D.J. Winfield is living up to expectations after missing last year with an injured ankle.  Schaflke even applauds the defense for playing so well together.

“There is not a selfish guy on our team and I think that’s been the difference this year as opposed to other years,” said Schafkle.

Part of the reason the Bulldogs have excelled is their new head coach this year was familiar with the players and the program.  Bob Nielson served as UMD’s head coach from 1999-2003 before taking over as the school’s director of athletics.  When Nielson’s successor Bubba Schweigert left the program for another position, Nielson took back the reigns and the players were comfortable with the decision.

“When the change happened, it was pretty abrupt, but not a whole lot was changed,” said Schaflke.  “Coach Nielson allows the players to police themselves and we do a really good job of that.  Our senior leadership is pretty unbelievable.  I think that’s eased us into the transition better and we didn’t have to take that step back to move forward that a lot of teams have to do when there’s a change at the top.  They did a really good job not shaking things up too much.”

The Bulldogs have made major strides for the 76-year-old program, considering what a tough road they have encountered.  After hosting Chadron State in a 20-10 first round victory, UMD knocked off perennial power Grand Valley State in double-overtime on the Lakers’ field.  They suffered no letdown after the huge victory, dominating California (Pa.), 45-7, another perennial playoff squad, on the road.

“We haven’t been satisfied with the first playoff win in school history, and being the No. 1 team in the country,” said Schafkle.  “We really haven’t been satisfied.  We know that to accomplish our goal we have to win the next game.”

Minnesota Duluth is the only remaining undefeated team in the nation.  The Bulldogs and Northwest Missouri State will battle for the Division II title on Dec. 13 at 12 p.m. CST, at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Ala.  The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.