Trophy at stake as Minot State battles U-Mary

With the schools’ geographic proximity and past history in the Dakota Athletic Conference, Minot State University and the University of Mary make for natural rivals.

Today, a new traveling trophy will add further stakes and flair to the football teams’ annual meeting. The contest will be known as the “Battle of the Big Lake” and the trophy features the path the Missouri River cuts through North Dakota, including where it connects with Lake Sakakawea between the two universities.

“It’s great to have our rivalry with U-Mary renewed and it adds even more excitement to have a traveling trophy,” MSU Athletic Director Rick Hedberg said in a press release. “I spoke with a few of the players this week and they are excited to have the trophy to play for. It’s fun to start a new tradition, one which should last for several decades.”

The Beavers (1-3) hold an 11-10 all-time edge in the rivalry, which was revived last season when MSU joined Mary in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. The Beavers scored 22 unanswered fourth-quarter points in a 32-21 win in Minot last September.

“It’s definitely a rivalry,” MSU senior cornerback Kewon Tapp said. “Them being our closest school, there’s gonna be some fighting, battling going on. We beat them last year, so we know they’re gonna bring it.”

Mary (2-2) has one prominent weapon that wasn’t at its disposal in that meeting. Senior quarterback Craig Bagnell – the school’s all-time leader with 608 career completions – was sidelined with an injury during last season’s matchup. He has the Marauders averaging 278 passing yards per game, which ranks third in the NSIC.

“He’s in his fifth year here,” Mary coach Myron Schulz said of Bagnell, a fourth-year starter. “He wants to be a coach, so he’s really a coach on the field. He knows as much about the offense as I do, so we give him free rein.”

Mary junior wideout Elby Pope torched the Beavers for 154 yards on seven catches in 2012.

“You’ve gotta make sure you try to match his routes and keep the ball out of his hands,” MSU coach Paul Rudolph said. “Because he’s pretty darn good with it in his hands.”

The Maruaders lead the conference with 15 turnovers forced (seven fumble recoveries, eight interceptions). That could be problematic for the Beavers, who lead the NSIC with 14 turnovers and 23 sacks allowed.

“They blitz you from all angles, so they can force some turnovers,” Rudolph said. “We’re trying to make sure we’ve got our guys prepared for everything that they can do, but at the same token, they’ve gotta go out and play.”

Kickoff is set for 2:35 p.m. The game will be broadcast on NBC North Dakota.

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