MOORHEAD - Minnesota State Moorhead sophomore Darius Woods-Steichen isn't listed as a starter on the Dragons defensive depth chart, but the defensive end has starter-like production.
The 6-foot-2, 262-pound Woods-Steichen leads MSUM with four sacks through four games. He had two sacks in last Saturday's victory at the University of Mary in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference football.
"He's put himself in position to make a lot of plays," Dragons head coach Steve Laqua said. "I think he's an interesting blend of toughness with athleticism that gets him off blocks."
The Dragons (3-1, 3-1 NSIC) have a two-game winning streak heading into Saturday's game at Upper Iowa. MSUM has rebounded from a 60-7 loss at Minnesota-Duluth in the second week of the season.
"We put a lot of emphasis on growing as a team in the offseason," Laqua said. "I think the chemistry of this team was able to show through that. This team has a special chemistry that hopefully continues to give us a winning edge."
Laqua said Woods-Steichen has been healthy this season. Injury slowed Woods-Steichen in fall camp during his redshirt freshman season. This season, he's earned time in the defensive line rotation and played around 30 plays against Mary.
Woods-Steichen said his statistical success has been a product of the defense playing as a unit.
"It's more so the other guys," said Woods-Steichen, who played high school football for Waubun, Minn. "It's doing your job and opportunities to make plays will come."
Upper Iowa (1-3) is averaging 83 plays per game through for games, passing for nearly 300 yards per game. Woods-Steichen said slowing that fast-paced attack will be a challenge for the MSUM defense.
"They run a lot of plays. They are quick. They are up-tempo," Woods-Steichen said. "We need to really get off the field and hopefully our offense can stay on the field."
Laqua said sophomore quarterback Jakup Sinani is slated to start for the Dragons after putting together back-to-back solid starts. He added junior quarterback Bryce Meehl is getting close to 100 percent. Meehl has been nursing a lower-leg injury since the Minnesota-Duluth game.
Sinani completed 19 of 31 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns in 48-20 victory at Mary last weekend. He is averaging 204.3 passing yards per game. The Dragons have averaged 45 points per game in the past two games.
"We've gotten into a rhythm offensively these last two weeks so we'll keep going with him," Laqua said of Sinani. "He's earned that. He's played good football."
Cobbers hoping to solve stingy St. Thomas defense
The last time Concordia played perennial Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference power St. Thomas, quarterback Blake Kragnes was making his first collegiate start.
That was last season. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Kragnes will be more seasoned in his second start against the Tommies.
The Cobbers (3-1, 2-0 MIAC) host No. 3-ranked St. Thomas (3-0, 1-0) at 1:10 p.m. Saturday at Jake Christiansen Stadium.
"He's improved leaps and bounds since that game," Horan said, referring to last season's game at St. Thomas, a 21-0 loss. "The big thing that we need to have Blake do is distribute the football where it needs to be distributed. Don't try to do too much. ... When you get guys that press and want to do too much, that's when you get into a pickle with a team like St. Thomas."
The Cobbers are averaging 35.8 points per game this season, while rushing for 323.8 yards per contest. The Tommies feature a stingy defense, limiting opponents to 2.3 points per game through three games with two shutouts. St. Thomas has held its first three opponents to a combined minus-19 yards rushing.
"We need to do a better job than we did last year against St. Thomas," Horan said. "We didn't do enough offensively. We need to change that."