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DWU football chasing 8-win season, playoffs

With a win Saturday, the Tigers can do what few teams have done in more than 100 years of football at Dakota Wesleyan University.

The Tigers could become the third team in school history to win eight games in a season. A feat accomplished by the 1976 squad (8-2) and the 1992 team (10-1).

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This year, DWU is 7-3 overall and 6-2 in the Great Plains Athletic Conference under second-year coach Ross Cimpl. If the Tigers defeat Dordt, they have a chance to reach the NAIA national tournament, which only the 1992 football team has done.

“It is a very exciting time for DWU football,” DWU Athletic Director Curt Hart said. “Ross has really brought the program around the last couple of years, and we have a group of seniors that have really bought into the program.”

After defeating Concordia 24-13 Saturday, the Tigers are tied for second place in the conference with Northwestern, which is also 6-2 in the GPAC. Northwestern defeated DWU earlier this season 49-42 in Orange City, Iowa.

Northwestern beat then-unbeaten and top-ranked Morningside College 38-28 Saturday, which could prove detrimental to the Tigers’ playoff hopes.

The NAIA selects 16 teams to participate in its national football tournament. Each team that wins its conference and is ranked in the top 20 of the NAIA polls receives an automatic bid to the tournament.

There are eight NAIA football conferences, not including the independents. The highest-ranked independent team also receives an automatic berth into the national tournament as long as it is ranked in the top 20.

As of Nov. 11, the only team that sits in first place of its conference that is not ranked in the top 20 of the NAIA polls is the Central State Football League’s Langston University (Okla.). Langston is 5-4 overall and is ranked 24th. The highest rated independent team is Ave Maria University (Fla.), which is 6-2 overall and receiving votes in the national poll.

Morningside (8-1, 7-1 GPAC) is the GPAC’s top team and ranks fifth in the NAIA polls. DWU dropped its game against Morningside 62-27 on Oct. 19 at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell.

“Right now, the way it looks is the top 16 teams in the polls at the end of next week are going to make the playoffs,” DWU football coach Ross Cimpl said. The Tigers are ranked 22nd coming into their final regular season game, which is against Dordt College at 1 p.m. Saturday in Sioux Center, Iowa.

“We have to move up six spots and whether or not that is possible, we don’t know,” Cimpl said. “We are a scary team. We are a dangerous team right now. We are playing with a lot of confidence right now and in that aspect, we are a playoff team.”

If DWU, Northwestern and Morningside each win on Saturday, Morningside will win the conference championship and Northwestern will finish second, winning the tiebreaker over DWU. Northwestern, which is ranked 13th in the national polls, will most likely earn a spot in the national tournament, while the Tigers could be the odd team out.

While DWU would finish with an eight-win season with a victory over Dordt, it would have to overcome recent history. Since 2003, three GPAC teams reached the national tournament just twice in 2004 and 2006.

In 2004, the University of Sioux Falls, Hastings College and Morningside each made it. In 2006, Northwestern, Morningside and USF reached the tournament.

“It is going to be tough for us to make the national tournament,” Hart said. “I think the chances would have been better if Morningside would have beat Northwestern last week. I don’t really know why the GPAC doesn’t get three teams in that much. We have a really good conference, but it seems like if it is not a clear-cut thing, that we are going to get in.”