DII football returns Saturday, Oct. 10, with the first doubleheader of the year. Four teams take the field in Week 3, each playing for the first time this season and representing the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. If you enjoy up-tempo, high-scoring football, than you won't want to miss either of these games. Week 3 figures to feature plenty of points as well as a continuation of the most-played rivalry in DII football history.
Here's a look at what to watch for in Week 3 of the 2020 DII football season.
Chadron State vs. Colorado Mesa: Preview
RMAC foes Chadron State and Colorado Mesa meet for a 30th consecutive year when the Mavericks host the Eagles at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 10. The series began in October 1991 when CMU beat the Eagles 33-28. However, CSC holds a 20-9 advantage all time, including six of the past 10 games. Colorado Mesa won the 2019 meeting with a 42-20 decision. As of late, visiting teams have thrived in this series with wins in four of the past five years.
Both teams come into their 2020 season opener after winning six games a year ago. But Colorado Mesa has some new faces on the sideline. Tremaine Jackson enters his first season as the Mavericks' head coach after spending the past two seasons as the defensive line coach at Texas State. Chadron State head coach Jay Long begins his ninth season with the Eagles, six of which have ended in winning seasons so far. He'll be the only DII coach on Saturday not in his first year.
Here's who you'll want to keep an eye on in the first RMAC football game of 2020:
Dalton Holst, Chadron State quarterback
Holst is in his fourth year starting at quarterback for Chadron State. The 2019 Harlon Hill Trophy nominee threw for 3,114 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2019 to headline an offense that scored more than 37 points per game last year. Holst will likely be the catalyst to the offense once again but should benefit from some notable returning contributors. Wide receiver Cole Thurness could become Holst's top target after pulling down 65 receptions and eight touchdowns as a junior. As for the run game, Elijah Myles produced a 1,000-yard season for Chadron State, but the backfield might be even better now with Myles and UCLA transfer Jalen Starks. If Holst and the run game are in sync early, be prepared for the Eagles to score a lot of points this season.
Travis Wilson, Chadron State linebacker
Wilson is one of the Eagles' top defensive playmakers. But the vagueness of that term doesn't translate to takeaways or touchdowns. To clarify, Wilson is a tackling machine. He led the RMAC with 124 tackles last season, the first CSC player to do so since 1997. The senior linebacker registered 13 tackles for loss and three sacks, setting him up to be one of the more disruptive defenders in DII this season. With CSC opponents averaging over 40 carries per game, Wilson's presence is pivotal to the Eagles slowing down an opponent's run game.
Aaron Howard, Colorado Mesa quarterback
Howard split time at quarterback during the 2019 season, throwing for 12 touchdowns against just three interceptions a year ago. After a strong showing in fall camp, the starting job is his to begin the season. Howard brings experience and stability to a position that rotated between three players last season. Chadron State gave up 24 passing touchdowns last year and projects to start a few newcomers in the secondary, potentially giving Howard an outlet to a strong start in 2020. But the Mavericks offense is deep beyond quarterback play. Howard should benefit from having a reliable run game to balance the attack as running backs Isaac Maestas, Jesse Rodriquez and Trey Windham are all back after combining for more than 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Damar’ren Mitchell, Colorado Mesa defensive back
It's difficult to single out one defensive back when the Mavericks have a breadth of experience in the secondary. But Mitchell is pretty hard not to notice. The junior safety returns to the Mavericks after missing the 2019 season. Colorado Mesa recorded 16 interceptions in his absence. However, Mitchell had five interceptions in 2018 along with seven pass breakups when he was named first team All-RMAC. Adding him back into the mix arguably gives the Mavericks the top ballhawk playing in DII this season.
Black Hills State vs. South Dakota Mines: Preview
The Black Hills Brawl is far and away the most-played rivalry in DII football with a 134-game history. South Dakota Mines and Black Hills State first met in 1895, a history that spans across three centuries and began when Spearfish Normal — now Black Hills State — beat Dakota School of Mines 18-0 in the first meeting 125 years ago. And guess what? We'll get to see this rivalry twice in 2020 as chapters 135 and 136 are scheduled to take place this season. Black Hills State won the 2019 meeting 48-28 while South Dakota Mines leads the all-time series 65-60-11.
The first meeting of the season is set for Saturday, Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. ET when Black Hills State heads to South Dakota School of Mines. Both teams are coming off of 3-8 campaigns in 2019 and will look to start the new year strong under new coaching staffs. Josh Breske is running the show at Black Hills State after three seasons as Lindenwood's offensive line coach. The former Yellow Jackets lineman went 5-1 against South Dakota Mines during his playing career. For the Hardrockers, it'll be Charlie Flohr's head coaching debut as well. Flohr comes to the RMAC following 14 years with Northwest Missouri State, where he won four NCAA championships as the Bearcats' offensive coordinator.
Here are a few names who could potentially leave their mark on the rivalry this Saturday:
Chance Eben, Black Hills State quarterback
Eben was listed as QB1 for the Yellow Jackets' season opener. The sophomore has experience after making eight appearances in 2019, including a 211-yard, two touchdown performance in a win over South Dakota Mines. But consistency is the key in Eben's second-year at Black Hills State. He threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns last year. The passing game will be Black Hills State's biggest constant while Breske installs his offense and the focus of the run game shifts from Payten Gilmore to sophomore Nolan Susel. Eben has three wide receivers back from a year ago, most notably Kielar Harpham. The 5-foot-10 senior hauled in 60 passes and six touchdowns last season and could build on that if he and Eben are on the same page from day one.
Bailey Rosenstrauch, Black Hills State defensive back
One area of improvement expected to come under Breske is Black Hills State's defense after the Yellow Jackets conceded more than 37 points per game last season. Despite some of the defensive struggles BHSU experienced, Rosenstrauch was a bright spot with 79 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. His versatility makes him a viable candidate to line up in different spots on the field and contribute at different levels. He was voted a team captain this year as a junior.
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Ahmad Lewis, South Dakota Mines running back
You can't talk about Hardrocker football and not mention Ahmad Lewis. He was the focal point of the Hardrockers' offense as a junior, handling 308 carries for 1,385 yards and nine touchdowns. While his yard totals will be tough to replicate in an abbreviated season, his presence might be even more critical to South Dakota Mines finding success on the offensive end. Quarterback Spencer Zur is listed as the starter, however fellow sophomore Toby Smith and North Dakota State transfer Jayden Johannsen could also see reps. All four of Mines' leading receivers from a year ago are back, but questions surrounding the starting quarterback place a greater emphasis on Lewis and the ground game.
Bryan Akunna, South Dakota Mines defensive lineman
One area South Dakota Mines can improve on defensively in 2020 is winning the line of scrimmage. Having a full season of Bryan Akunna should help the Hardrockers do so more frequently. The senior lineman was limited to six games last season and finished with 25 tackles, 2.5 for loss and one half of a sack. His presence on the line should be a big help after South Dakota Mines gave up over 200 rushing yards per game in 2019.