Strength versus strength

Something has to give.

The Southwest Minnesota State University football team leads the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in rushing and is second in total offense. The Minot State University defense is coming off a stingy performance in a triple-overtime win over Augustana College, which managed just 1.9 yards per rushing attempt against the Beavers.

It will be strength versus strength tonight when SMSU and MSU battle for the first time since 1997, with the game likely decided by how well SMSU’s senior-laden offense can control the game against the Beavers’ nearly as experienced defense. The Mustangs start eight seniors and three juniors on offense. MSU starts six seniors on defense and two more play significant backup roles.

“It’s gonna be a hard-fought game,” said MSU senior linebacker Chad Marshall, who led the Beavers with 13 tackles against Augustana. “There’s a lot of skill on both sides of the ball. I just hope to go out there and play as hard as we can and hopefully go out there and come out with a win again on Friday.”

The Mustangs (1-1) earned a 27-20 victory over Minnesota State University-Moorhead on Saturday, with junior quarterback Charlie Kern tossing a 23-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Anthony Dean with three seconds remaining. Junior running back Tyler Tonderum carried the ball 42 times for a school-record 343 yards in the game, which was played during a steady downpour.

“He’s done a nice job for us in the first two games,” SMSU coach Cory Sauter said of the 5-foot-10, 191-pound Tonderum, who is in his first year as the starter. “He’s got a nice burst, he understands the offense and he’s got some guys up front that have created some lanes for him.”

SMSU starts five seniors on its O-line and tight end Cory Condon is also in his final year of eligibility. Sauter respects MSU’s run-stopping abilities and expects the Mustangs to have to pass more than they did in their rainy victory last weekend.

“They’re very active,” Sauter said. “They’ve got some big-bodied kids that are very capable of plugging up holes and getting off blockers. It’s definitely gonna be a challenge to get anywhere on the ground. We’re gonna have to mix it up.”

MSU (1-1) will look to build on its offensive progress in Saturday’s 23-17 win, which followed a season-opening shutout loss to Concordia-St. Paul. The Beavers rank last in the NSIC in scoring (11.5 points per game), but the Mustangs are allowing the third-most points in the league at 34.5 points per contest. SMSU is allowing 393 total yards per game.

“They don’t do anything special that we haven’t seen,” MSU sophomore quarterback Zac Cunha said. “As long as we can move the ball, control the offensive line of scrimmage a little bit, we should be fine.”

Marshall said the Beavers are preparing with extra vigor following the dramatic win over Augustana – the program’s biggest victory since joining the NSIC in 2012.

“You can just tell there’s a little more pep in everyone’s step out there on the practice field,” he said. “It let us know that we can do this and we can make a run at this thing if we do our jobs and all play up to the level we need to play to compete at this level. And we can do it.”

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Mattke Field in Marshall, Minn.

Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.