LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Although the 18th-ranked Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College Golden Norsemen make a trip to Arkansas, Saturday, Oct. 21, at 1 p.m., for a non-conference game with Arkansas Baptist College, the team remains focused on the task at hand, according to head coach Clay Patterson.
“We’ll know exactly where we stand in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference at the end of the day,” Patterson said. “We’re not thinking about that as a team because Arkansas Baptist has been putting up some big numbers in the last couple of games.”
NEO concludes the non-conference portion of the regular season with a 6-2 record. The Norsemen pulled off a 34-30 come-from-behind victory last Saturday at Coffeyville, Kansas.
Coach Richard Wilson’s Buffaloes return to Verizon Wireless Field at the Quigley Cox Stadium with a 1-5 season record. Located on the campus of Little Rock‘s historic Central High School, the Buffs snapped a five-game losing streak Saturday, Oct. 21, with a 41-35 upset at Cisco, Texas.
Over the past two games, Arkansas Baptist has scored 74 points — including 56 in a 56-33 loss to No. 5 Blinn, Texas, in Little Rock.
Since the launch of the program in 2006, the Golden Norsemen have won nine of the 11 games played in the series with the Buffaloes.
Even though ABC posted a 21-6 victory over the Golden Norse in the 2008 season, the Buffs forfeited the game due to an academically ineligible player.
Last season the Norsemen cruised to a 74-6 romp over Arkansas Baptist at Red Robertson Field. Seven individual and team NEO school records were broken during the game as the Norse built a 40-lead at halftime.
“We’ve spent the week trying to clean up our penalties on offense,” Patterson said. “They cost us at least 15 points against Coffeyville, which would have put the game out of reach.
“Going forward, we’ve got to try and put a complete game together on both sides of the football,” Patterson said. “We haven’t done that yet.
“We haven’t fired on all phases of the game at the same time,” Patterson said. “So we’re just trying to get better on defense while making big plays on the offensive side.”
Ranked No. 4 nationally in total yards per game (527.3), the Golden Norse offense remains a run-based unit (281 yards per game rushing and 246.3 yards per game passing).
“An indication that we’re not getting the big plays on offense is the fact that we rank No. 15 in the nation by scoring an average of 34.3 points per game,” Patterson said. “We just need to generate more big plays.”
Redshirt sophomore Wyatt Steigerwald guides the NEO offense from the quarterback position.
Steigerwald has completed 103 of 161 passes for 1,260 yards and 16 touchdowns with five interceptions. He has added 79 yards on 40 carries with one TD.
Sharing the running game responsibilities for NEO are redshirt freshmen Darwin Thompson and Darran Williams.
Thompson has rushed for 965 yards on 110 carries with six TDs. He ranks fourth in the nation by averaging 137.9 yards per game. Thompson also had eight receptions for 61 yards and one touchdown.
Williams has contributed 590 yards on 86 carries and two TDs. He has made two catches for 34 yards.
Eight of the top 10 Golden Norse receivers are sophomores, led by wide out Kobe Bryer with 34 receptions for 380 yards and two touchdowns.
Veteran wide receiver KJ Wells has caught 18 passes for 216 yards and two TDs while Antwan Woods has made 16 receptions for 200 yards and one TD.
Sophomore tight end Jace Sternberger has 13 catches for 181 yards while leading the team with four touchdowns.
“We know from the past that Arkansas Baptist has talent,” Patterson said. “For our kids to play a game at 1 p.m. in a stadium as expansive at Little Rock will be a new experience for them.
“Defensively, we want to continue to play with intensity and swarm the football,” Patterson said. “We want to build on that going into our game at Blinn.”
While the Buffaloes have the most porous defense (590.2 yards per game) in the nation, the Golden Norsemen rank No. 18 in the country by allowing an average of 354.7 yards per game.
Nine of NEO’s top 10 defenders are sophomores, led by linebacker Dillon Hall with 16 unassisted tackles and 36 assists.
Defensive back Aliik Sezer (last week’s hero by making a game-saving tackle on the final play) has made 23 solo tackles and 26 assists.
Three linebackers, Lamontre Huval, Joe Williams and freshman Greg McCallister, comprise the remaining top five defenders.
Huval leads the Norse with four tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Veteran defensive end Cade Baumann leads the Norsemen with six quarterback sacks for minus-22 yards.
“We could very well be playing for a No. 2 seed in that final game because Blinn’s (5-1 and 6-1) going to be playing for a conference championship,” Patterson said. “Even though defending conference champion Trinity Valley (5-1 and 6-1) is ranked No. 3, they lost to Blinn 31-27 on Sept. 16.”
Trinity Valley hosts Cisco for homecoming Saturday in Athens, Texas.