Tigers look to keep playoff hopes aliveIf the Dakota Wesleyan or Northwestern football teams have any shot at making the NAIA playoffs this season, they can’t suffer another loss.
By: Kevin Pottebaum, The Daily Republic
If the Dakota Wesleyan or Northwestern football teams have any shot at making the NAIA playoffs this season, they can’t suffer another loss.
Neither is a lock in the 16-team playoff setup even if they win out, but the two teams face off today to find out which team may still have hope.
“This game is huge,” Northwestern head coach Kyle Achterhoff said. “The team that comes out on top is in a position to at least have a chance.”
The Tigers host the Red Raiders at 7 p.m. today at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. The two teams enter the matchup tied for third in the GPAC at 4-2.
The No. 16-ranked Red Raiders are 6-2 overall, while No. 25 Dakota Wesleyan is 5-2.
“We don’t know for sure where we’re at,” said DWU coach Ross Cimpl about the Tigers’ playoff chances. “We know for sure if we lose we’re definitely not in. We want to keep ourselves in the conversation.”
Last season’s matchup among the two GPAC schools also had a lot of meaning as the Red Raiders entered the game ranked 22nd in the nation and Dakota Wesleyan came in as the No. 23-ranked team.
Northwestern took control early and went on to a 34-0 win in Orange City, Iowa.
The Tigers hope to return the favor as they host this year’s battle.
With cold temperatures and possible precipitation in the forecast for kickoff, the conditions favor a strong run game, which shouldn’t be a problem for either team.
Today’s game features the top three rushers in the GPAC, as DWU’s Josh Endres leads the league with 987 yards this season and the Red Raiders’ backfield has two players that rank second and third in the conference in yards.
Brandon Smith has 945 yards on 147 carries this season, while Theo Bartman has tallied 789 yards on 113 carries.
“Essentially they have two Josh Endres’ back there,” Cimpl said.
Although both coaches said they want to control the line of scrimmage and earn some yards on the ground, they added that the passing game could be the difference in the matchup.
“I think both defenses are keyed in on the run game and when you get guys really aggressive on the run, you get that possibility of getting that big play over the top,” Cimpl said.
“We’re definitely worried about the pass,” Achterhoff said. “We’re going to have to commit a lot of guys to stopping Josh and the running game, but we know Dakota Wesleyan has that big play capability in the pass game.”
Tigers’ quarterback Jon Bane is second in the GPAC with 267.8 yards per game with 1,607 yards on the season and 15 touchdowns.
The true key for DWU to pick up a victory is going to be the play by its defense. Northwestern ranks second in the league averaging 16.4 points given up per contest, while the Tigers are the third-worst team in the GPAC, allowing 29.7 points a game.
The Tigers allow a league-worst 452 yards per game, while Northwestern ranks first in the league, with opponents averaging 256.3 yards per contest.
“We need to stay aggressive and force bad decisions on their part,” Cimpl said.