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Football Dakota Wesleyan at Briar Cliff

Briar Cliff's Omar Dyles celebrates after making a defensive play against Dakota Wesleyan.

Tuesday's Great Plains Athletic Conference media day provided plenty of comments and information from the coaches. The coaches poll and media poll were both released with Morningside on top of both polls.

Below are some more tidbits of the local GPAC teams in the area.

BRIAR CLIFF

The Chargers finished last season with a 6-5 record overall and were 4-5 in the GPAC. Third-year head coach Dennis Wagner said it was the program's first winning season in 15 campaigns.

The rest of the GPAC, the coaches and the media, don't expect Briar Cliff to take a step back even though the Chargers have come this close to the summit's peak. In both polls, the Chargers were picked to finish in fifth place, one spot ahead of where Briar Cliff finished last season.

Wagner isn't looking back to last season, either. His focus is on this season.

"Once you climb and fall off, it's hard to get back. Last year is last year and it means nothing now and you have to be focused on this year. I'm not concerned with last year," Wagner said. "We just want to continue to improve and build a winning culture. We had to change the culture everywhere, the program and the school."

Wagner knows the team can't rest on last season because of the challenge the GPAC schedule presents.

The Chargers' schedule starts with Waldorf, a team that Briar Cliff beat by 27 points last season to open the season, and then face Dakota State, which was a 29-point win last season for the Chargers. Then GPAC play begins.

Dakota Wesleyan is the first conference opponent and then Briar Cliff starts a grueling seven-game stretch that includes Doane and Midland, which both finished ahead of Briar Cliff last season, defending national champion Morningside, 14th-ranked Northwestern and 25th-ranked Dordt.

"We just want to continue to improve and every week it's a tough week," Wagner said. "Just continue to play good football and be aggressive and showcase the talents. Week-in and week-out, we have to have our A-game."

DORDT

Joel Penner, who is in his fourth season of leading the Defenders, had an interesting point when he took the stand on Tuesday.

In his previous three seasons, Dordt finished two spots higher than where the Defenders were picked in the GPAC coaches preseason poll.

Last season Dordt finished third in the GPAC after a 6-3 conference record. The Defenders finished 7-3 overall and finished No. 23 in the final NAIA poll.

After last year's performance, the coaches went with Dordt as the No. 3 team in the conference in the preseason poll. So if Penner's statement holds up, the Defenders should finish ahead of Morningside and Northwestern to win the GPAC title.

"Do me a favor and pick us third. We would be in good position," Penner joked.

MORNINGSIDE

The Mustangs, the defending national champions, may have lost quarterback Trent Solsma and wide receiver Connor Niles to graduation, two of the most prolific players in NAIA history at their positions, but the Mustangs still return one of the top offensive players in the nation.

As Solsma and Niles drew a good amount of the attention from defenses, deservedly so, sophomore running back Arnijae Ponder quietly, well as quietly as one could, rushed for the second-most yards in NAIA.

Ponder finished the season with 1,683 yards on 319 carries, good for 5.3 yards per carry. He averaged 120.2 yards per game. He also rushed for the second-most touchdowns in the nation with 23. Ponder added three touchdown receptions.

With Addison Ross and Joe Dolincheck battling for the top spot at quarterback, Ponder will be the leader of the Mustangs' offense.

"Without question he is the leader of the offense," Morningside coach Steve Ryan said. "There's a little bit more that is going to be expected of him and Connor did open some things up for him. We used AP probably about right last year and he had an outstanding playoff run."

NORTHWESTERN

The Red Raiders season ended far earlier than many expected when Northwestern lost to Dickinson State in the first round of the NAIA playoffs, 14-6.

It was easily the lowest point total of the season for Northwestern, which only had one loss (42-34 to Morningside) on the season coming into the playoff game. The lowest offensive output for the Red Raiders previously that season was 28 - a 28-10 win over Valley City State to open the season and a 28-25 win over Doane at the end of September.

Northwestern returns basically its whole offense, which was the 20th best scoring offense in the nation (35.2 points per game) and 11th in the nation in yards per game (447.7).

The loss to Dickinson State should only fuel a team that could compete for a national title, even though head coach Matt McCarty wouldn't go as far to say that yet.

"That's a long ways away. I think the big thing is we have players that have played in a lot of big games and they have some valuable experience," McCarty said. "Last season didn't end the way we wanted to. That loss hurt but it was in our best interest and any success this season is because we lost that game. The guys have had a great mindset."

West Sioux graduate Jake Lynott joined the Red Raiders roster this past spring and McCarty thinks Lynott can have an instant impact in the defensive backfield.

"He's a tremendous athlete and he will start at safety," McCarty said.

RULE CHANGES

There are three rule changes coming into the 2019 season.

One involves overtime. In the fifth overtime, each team will have one play at the three-yard line for a two-point try. Previously all of the overtime periods started at the 25-yard line and the game continued until a winner was determined. The rule change in the fifth overtime is meant to end the game quicker if it even gets that far.

It is now illegal for two or more players to get together intentionally to deliver a block. It's called an illegal wedge and it is a 15-yard personal foul penalty. This should result in more one-on-one blocking upfront.

The third change is on blind side blocks. Blind side blocks are not illegal, but if a block is brought onto the opponent who doesn't see it coming and it is in an attacking manner - reaching out with the arms is an example - it is a penalty. The rule is in place to try and get 'decleaters' out of the game.

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