MOORHEAD — Minnesota State Moorhead junior Jakup Sinani had missed the previous five games heading into last weekend’s game at Minot State.
The 6-foot-3, 197-pound quarterback played like he had never left the lineup.
Sinani passed for more than 500 yards and four touchdowns returning from a lower leg injury that he suffered in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference football game against Northern State in September.
“I was pretty anxious all week,” said Sinani, who has played in four games this season. “I had a good feeling going into it.”
Sinani is set to make back-to-back starts for the first time since September. The Dragons (5-4) host rival Bemidji State at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, at Scheels Field at Alex Nemzek Stadium. The teams are playing for the “Axe” traveling trophy and the Dragons have a chance to win three consecutive games for the first time this season.
The Dragons have two games remaining in the regular season, including the game against Bemidji State.
“It’s a program that’s been traditionally strong,” Dragons head coach Steve Laqua. “The last two games are huge. It will swing how you look at the final record. This is critical, the last two games. We’re playing both like they are playoff-type games.”
Sinani looked in postseason form last weekend, completing 40 of 51 passes for 513 yards against Minot State. The passing yards and completions were both single-game school records for Sinani, who hadn’t played since Sept. 21, the third week of the season. He was named the NSIC offensive player of the week.
“Whenever anyone comes off an injury we are pretty pumped up,” said Dragons wide receiver Jake Richter, who had 10 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown last Saturday. “Everyone was excited for him. I have total faith in him.”
Richter missed the first four games this season after he suffered an Achilles injury last February. The 6-foot-4, 214-pound junior has tried to increase his workload the past five games in returning from the injury. Last Saturday, Richter played about 60 snaps, which is the most he’s been able to play this season.
The Minot State game is the first game in which both Sinani and Richter played together this season.
“Having Sinani back was a big thing for me,” said Richter, who is from Detroit Lakes, Minn. “We have a little bit of that chemistry.”
Laqua added: “I think the two of them have a special connection.”
While Sinani was sidelined, he was on the headsets on the sideline during games and was able to listen to Laqua call plays during games. Sinani said being plugged into the play calling helped him mentally prepare for his return to the field last Saturday.
“I got a feel how Laqua likes calling his plays,” Sinani said.
“He took advantage of that time,” Laqua said.
Sinani helped mentor true freshmen quarterbacks Matthew Plasterer and Max Carter, who both saw playing time while Sinani was sidelined. Plasterer has completed 119 of 201 passes for 1,313 yards and seven touchdowns with seven interceptions this season.
“I thought he did a really good job of bringing suggestions to us when he was injured,” Laqua said of Sinani, who passed for more than 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
“These next two weeks kind of separate us if we want to be in the middle of the pack or the upper part of the league,” said Sinani, who is from Oak Creek, Wis.