On the final weekend of the regular season for both Division II and Division III football, the state's biggest showdown will be in Duluth. Minnesota State Mankato (8-2), which leads the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference with an 8-1 league record, will travel to No. 10 Minnesota Duluth (8-2, 7-2) with NCAA playoff hopes and a share of the NSIC title on the line.
The Mavericks clinched at least a share of the title with last week's 38-0 victory over Southwest Minnesota State, giving them their first league championship since they won the North Central Conference title in 1993. The Bulldogs' hopes of a fourth consecutive NSIC title dimmed considerably with their 35-7 loss at St. Cloud State on Oct. 29. Bemidji State's upset of the Huskies the following week kept UMD in the hunt, tying it with St. Cloud State and Wayne State for second place in the conference at 7-2.
While MSU Mankato brings a four-game winning streak to Duluth, the Bulldogs have the power of the home field in their favor. UMD has won 33 consecutive league games at Malosky Stadium, a streak that covers 11 years. With a victory, the Bulldogs would become the first conference member to earn four titles in a row since Minnesota-Morris in 1975-78.
Three Minnesota teams are bunched in the D-II Super Region 3 rankings, with St. Cloud State fifth, MSU Mankato sixth and UMD seventh. In the Division III regional rankings, St. Thomas (10-0) is second, and St. Scholastica (9-0) is eighth. The Tommies and Saints already have locked up berths in the NCAA playoffs by winning their conference titles.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Rayon Simmons, RB, Winona State
The junior ran for a career-high 203 yards and four touchdowns in last week's victory over the University of Mary. Heading into Saturday's season finale at Wayne State (Neb.), Simmons has 1,139 rushing yards, making him the third player in Warriors history to accumulate 1,000 rushing yards in consecutive seasons.
Dennis Carter, WR, Minnesota State Mankato
After beginning his college career at Minnesota Duluth, the junior will face his former team Saturday as the Mavericks' top receiver. Carter has a team-high 618 receiving yards and has caught six touchdown passes this season; he's also the top kick returner in the NSIC, averaging 27.9 yards per return.
BY THE NUMBERS
0 Times a team with more than one loss has won the NSIC title in the 79 years the league has sponsored football, a streak that could end Saturday.
100 Points scored on St. Thomas in 10 games this season, the lowest regular-season total by a MIAC team since St. John's surrendered 95 points on its way to the 2003 NCAA championship.
1999 The last time Augsburg finished above .500, until last week's victory over Gustavus Adolphus boosted it to 6-3 and assured the Auggies of a winning record even if they lose their finale against Bethel.
14 Consecutive home victories for St. Cloud State, which can finish a second consecutive season without a home loss by defeating Minnesota State Moorhead, which has lost six in a row.
187 Points scored in the past three games by St. Scholastica, which takes a 13-game winning streak into its final regular-season game at Eureka (Ill.).