VCSU receiver Jake Peterson and the Vikings host Dickinson State on Saturday at 3 p.m.
VCSU receiver Jake Peterson and the Vikings host Dickinson State on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Football - Wed, Aug. 30, 2017

For the Valley City State football team, there's no easing into the 2017 season.

The Vikings open the season with – on paper – their toughest opponent of the year, defending conference champion Dickinson State. The Vikings host the Blue Hawks at Shelly Ellig Field on Saturday, Sept. 2, at 3 p.m.

"We've put in a lot of work to prepare for this, and now everybody wants to go and get tested and see how good we are," said VCSU head coach Dennis McCulloch. "You can think and talk about how good you are, but until you start playing somebody else you never know."

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If the Vikings are looking for a test in game one they sure found it in the Blue Hawks, who have won the last two conference championships, advanced to the NAIA Playoffs last season, and are ranked No. 15 in the NAIA Preseason Top 25 Poll. Dickinson State comes in with a 1-0 record after an impressive season-opening win over Rocky Mountain College. Blue Hawk quarterback Hayden Gibson passed for 238 yards and four touchdowns as Dickinson rolled to a 43-28 victory on Aug. 24.

"They just reloaded," McCulloch said of the Blue Hawks roster this season. "You knew they lost some good guys from last year's team, but then they come back and they look very similar to last year as far as talent level. I was pretty impressed with what they did against Rocky Mountain – a good football team."

Saturday's matchup will feature the conference's two premiere NAIA programs over the last six years. The Vikings and Blue Hawks have won the last six conference titles between them, and VCSU finished second to Dickinson the past two years. The Vikings posted a 6-4 overall record last season and a 4-2 mark in the conference. (The records were later amended to 7-3 and 5-1 after the University of Jamestown had to forfeit its win over the Vikings.)

After graduating a dozen senior starters from last year's team, the Vikings will feature some new prominent faces in the lineup. At quarterback, redshirt freshman Jalen Pfeifer won the starting job out of camp and will make his collegiate debut Saturday.

Pfeifer will have a mix of veterans and inexperience on the offensive line protecting him. All-Conference linemen Avery Lock and PJ Peterson are back, as well as All-Conference tight end Tayler Lentz. Starting lineman Dahlton Wasankari is also back for his junior season. McCulloch said the Vikings experienced some losses on the offensive line since spring practice.  

"We're a little thinner there than we thought we'd be at this point in time," he said. "It's a little bit of a great unknown, and they'll get tested early against Dickinson."

With such a large group of seniors last year, McCulloch said experienced depth on this year's team is an issue at some positions.

"We have a talented group of guys, we're just not real deep yet at some spots," he said. "That's not going to change a whole lot all year."

One spot where the Vikings feel they have plenty of depth is at receiver. Leading the way is 6-foot-4 Jake Peterson, who had 25 catches for 341 yards and six touchdowns last season. Zackary Schmidt is also projected as a starter after a 24-catch season in 2016. Sophomore Kellen Kessler rounds out the projected starting receivers, but DJ Edwards, Tyler Ukestad and Eli Luna will all rotate in as well.

Louis Quinones and Anthony Logan are both returning at running back, and will receive the bulk of the carries in the early-going.

Defensively, VCSU is anchored by All-American linebacker Nicholas McBeain and All-Conference cornerback Travon Smith. McBeain is the all-time leading tackler in Viking history and was named 2nd Team All American after leading the nation with 18.8 tackles per game last season. Smith – a sophomore – led the Vikings with five interceptions last season, including two that he returned for touchdowns.

The youth movement is in full force on defense where the Vikings are projected to start four sophomores or freshmen. The starting defensive line is all juniors backed up by all freshmen. Flanking McBeain at the linebacker position are sophomore Riley Fredrickson and freshman Kendrick Lenzen.

Saturday's opener comes a week later for VCSU than the past few seasons, meaning the Vikings had to wait an extra week while several NSAA opponents like Dickinson were playing their openers in August.

"We're excited to get going and test ourselves," said McCulloch. "The guys are excited to go 'full go' against an opponent. That's the fun part about football that these guys don't get to do much in practice."

Notes:
If you go: Saturday's kickoff is at 3 p.m. in Valley City. VCSU tailgating and the Handy Hardware Fan Zone open at 1 p.m. Tickets to the game are $8 for adults and $4 for students. VCSU students are admitted free.
Radio coverage: KOVC Radio 1490-AM will have a live radio broadcast of the game, which can also be streamed online at www.newsdakota.com. Joel Morgan, the Voice of the Vikings, will have the call.
Watch live: Valley City State will produce a free live HD video broadcast of the game, which can be accessed online at portal.stretchinternet.com/vcsu or through the VCSU Viking app. The game is also available to watch through the "NAIA Network" OTT apps for Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku and Android TV.
Vikings start 1-0: Saturday is VCSU's season opening game, but the Vikings technically already have a 1-0 record. Finlandia University informed VCSU it could not play the Sept. 23 game in Valley City, and the Vikings picked up a forfeit victory due to the late cancellation. The official final score? 1-0.