KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Minnesota State-Mankato’s undefeated season will culminate in a national championship matchup with 13-1 Colorado State-Pueblo on Saturday.
MSU-Mankato (14-0) finished the regular season ranked first in Super Region Three and topped another undefeated team, Concord, 47-13 for a shot at the national title.
Strong offense has carried the Mavericks this far.
“I think as long as we do our job, that was the key to our success in the semifinal against Concord,” said senior MSU-Mankato offensive lineman Chris Reed at the pregame press conference. “We can carry that over to this weekend’s game.”
Reed also said it was "a little surreal" to make it through to the national championship after the win against Concord."It didn’t really sink in at first but once it did it was a very exciting feeling. We got close when we made it to the semifinals in 2012 and just finally overcoming that last game to get here was really something,” Reed said. “You could feel the atmosphere in the locker room afterward and it was just an incredible feeling to reach this point.”
The Mavericks defeated Pittsburg State -- a team with a history of doing well in the Division II tournament -- 24-21 after overtime in the second round before landslide wins against Minnesota-Duluth and Concord.
“We made one more play than they did and I’m happy that we did that so we can enjoy this game here and be a part of this,” said MSU-Mankato coach Todd Hofner of his team’s close win against Pittsburg State.
Junior defensive end Joshua Gordon looks toward the defense’s matchup with CSU-Pueblo.
“They’re definitely a good team. They have a good running back [Cameron McDondle] who isn’t going to be easy to tackle so we’re going to have to have effort, everybody flying to the ball,” Gordon said. “We like to get teams out of what they like to do and they like to run the ball so that’s definitely going to be our concern, stopping the run.”
McDondle has recorded the fourth-most rushing yards in Division II with 1,901. The ThunderWolves, however, only scored one touchdown in the team’s 10-7 semifinal victory against West Georgia.
“They’re physical and a great matchup for us,” Hofner said. “[We are] two teams that pride themselves on physicality and playing hard-nose football. You can’t ask for a better setting for both of these football programs.”
CSU-Pueblo has allowed 251 rushing yards in this year’s tournament to MSU-Mankato’s 357. MSU-Mankato, however, has the edge in total offense with 1,373 yards generated to CSU- Pueblo’s 973.
This will not be Reed’s first national championship. He is a two-time national champion in shot put at MSU-Mankato.
“Working under pressure is probably the number one thing I take from the national championships I’ve been in,” Reed said. “Last track season, I was fourth going into the last throw and, under pressure, I was able to come out and win it. So I think that’s what I will take into this game.”
Saturday’s game will prove a day of firsts. Not only will either school have captured the first national title in school history, the game will also be the first American football game to be played in Kansas City's Sporting Park, which is usually home to Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City.
“It’s marvelous. I’ve never been in a stadium like this. It’s spectacular here,” Gordon said. “I didn’t look at any pictures of it or anything [before arriving at the stadium], I just wanted to experience it.”