ROLLA, Mo. – For the first time since 1950, Missouri S&T's football team will take the field in a post-season game on Saturday as it takes on Minnesota State Moorhead in the Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs, Mo. Kickoff is slated for 12 p.m.
The Miners earned their spot in the Mineral Water Bowl on the strength of a 9-2 season – the fourth season in school history with at least nine victories – and a second place finish in the Great Lakes Valley Conference at 6-1, the same conference mark posted by their opponent on Saturday. MSU Moorhead, a member of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, went 8-3 and earned the conference's automatic bid to the bowl game as the top finisher in the NSIC that did not make the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Saturday's game marks the first-ever meeting between the two schools and will end lengthy post-season droughts for both programs. While the Miners will be playing in a post-season game for the first time in 68 years, the Dragons have not played in a post-season contest since 1994.
ABOUT THE MINERS: Missouri S&T won its last five games of the regular season, averaging 41.4 points in those five contests, to earn the opportunity to play in this weekend's bowl game. The Miners closed the regular season by rallying twice to upend Truman State, scoring a fourth quarter touchdown to take a 34-33 decision.
The winning touchdown pass was from Tyler Swart (Dickinson, TX/Dickinson) to Braxton Graham (Seneca, MO/Seneca), both of whom rank high on the GLVC charts heading into play this weekend and were among the Miners' 12 first-team All-GLVC selections in 2018. Swart ranks second in the GLVC with an average of 247.6 yards per game passing and is second to McKendree's Reece Metcalf with his 25 touchdown passes, as he has completed 64.4 percent of his throws for 2,724 yards.
Graham leads the GLVC in three receiving categories, as he has recorded 61 receptions for 975 yards and 13 scores. Graham, who is one of two players in GLVC history to have accumulated more than 5,000 all-purpose yards, is among five Miners with at least 26 receptions, as Logan Armontrout (Centralia, MO/Centralia) has hauled in 39 passes, Justin Vaughn (Houston, TX/George Bush) has 33 receptions and Josh Brown (Gainesville, FL/North Marion HS) has 32 to go along with Payton McAlister's(Decatur, TX/Decatur) 26.
S&T's ground game, which has averaged 126.3 yards per contest, is paced by Deshawn Jones' (Olympia Fields, IL/Rich Central) 669 yards and seven touchdowns, while Aaron Moya (Canutillo, TX/Canutillo) has 323 yards on the year and McAlister has added 287.
The Miner defensive unit ranks 19th in NCAA Division II heading into the weekend and has allowed just 108.3 yards rushing per contest. The pass rush has been a big key to S&T's success, as the Miners' 41 quarterback sacks are the fifth-most in Division II and the 94 tackles for a loss rank 11th.
Linebacker Bo Brooks (Canutillo, TX/Canutillo) leads S&T in both categories with 20 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and 10 sacks, while defensive end Tershawn Wharton (University City, MO/University City) has 7.5 sacks among his 13.5 tackles for a loss. Linebacker Landon Compton (Lamar, MO/Lamar) has recorded a team-high 92 tackles, while cornerback Roderick Chapman (Los Angeles, CA/Jefferson) is fourth in the nation in passes defended with 20, including four interceptions.
Chapman and Graham have been among the top kick returners in the nation this season – both have returns for scores – as Graham ranks eighth in punt returning with his average of 16.1 yards per runback and Chapman is 17th in kickoff returns as he is averaging 28 yards per runback.
Placekicker Ben Styron (Harrisonville, MO/Harrisonville), who holds the S&T career records for field goals and extra points made, has scored 80 points on 13-of-19 in field goal attempts and 41-of-43 on extra points. Punter Jonathan Banowetz (O'Fallon, MO/Fort Zumwalt North), the first-team punter on the All-GLVC team, has averaged 40.2 yards per punt and has had just 11 of his 44 punts returned this season.
ABOUT MSU MOORHEAD: The Dragons bring a record of 8-3 into the Mineral Water Bowl and finished 6-1 in the North Division of the NSIC; two of MSU Moorhead's losses came to teams that made the NCAA Division II playoffs. The Dragons finished the season on a three-game winning streak, knocking off St. Cloud State 13-10 on the last day of the season to earn the NSIC's berth to the bowl game.
MSU Moorhead has used two quarterbacks extensively during the season and they have combined to complete nearly 60 percent of their passes for 2,650 yards and 17 touchdowns. Jakup Sinani has thrown for 1,501 yards and 11 scores while the starter in recent weeks, Bryce Meehl, has thrown for 1,143 yards and six touchdowns. Grady Bresnahan has 75 receptions -- seventh-most in NCAA Divsion II -- for 796 yards, while Jake Richter has hauled in 64 balls for 1,052 yards and 10 scores.
The Dragons are averaging 151.9 yards per game on the ground and have spread the wealth in that area, as Zach Simons heads the contingent with 523 yards and 14 touchdowns. MSUM had four games this season in which it rushed for better than 200 yards as a team and won all four of those games.
Safety Aaron Doan leads the Dragon defense with 86 tackles, while linebacker Michael Strand has recorded 79 stops which includes 10 tackles for a loss. Cornerback Deiondre Taylor has three of the Dragons' six interceptions and has also broken up 10 passes, while Matthew Domek has a team-high 4.5 sacks; MSUM has 31 quarterback sacks this season.
Saturday's game will mark the Dragons' first game against a team outside the NSIC since Sept. 3, 2011, when MSU Moorhead defeated Robert Morris (Ill.) 28-17.