BRENHAM, Texas — Everything both teams worked for during the regular season comes down to Saturday’s 3 p.m. game between No. 14 ranked Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College and No. 4 rated Blinn College at ISD Cub Stadium.
After winning their sixth game for the first time since 2012 on Saturday, Oct. 21, with a 65-24 non-conference drubbing of Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, head coach Clay Patterson’s Golden Norse are 6-2 on the season and 4-2 in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference.
Current NEO athletic director Dale Patterson guided the 2012 Norsemen to a 9-3 season mark.
NEO redshirt sophomore quarterback Wyatt Steigerwald (6-1, 200 from Nowata) was named NJCAA National Offensive Player of the Week following his record-tying performance last week against Arkansas Baptist.
Steigerwald tied the NEO single game record set by Bubba Dudley against Marion, Alabama, in 1967 with six touchdown passes. He completed 26 of 33 passes for 325 yards without an interception.
Ryan Mahon enters his first full season as head coach of the Buccaneers after serving last year in an interim capacity. Under his leadership, Blinn finished sixth in the conference with a 3-4 record and 5-4 overall.
Cruising low under the radar this year, the Buccaneers lead the SWJCFC with a 5-1 record. Blinn stands 6-1 on the season.
“If we win by nine points or more, we will turn around and return to Brenham on Saturday, Nov. 4, for the post-season conference semifinals,” Patterson said. “If we should win by less than nine points, or loose the game, then we travel to Athens, Texas on Nov. 4, to face No. 9 ranked Trinity Valley Community College.”
Trinity Valley (4-2 and 6-2) entertains Cisco, Texas (1-5 and 2-6) on Saturday in the regular season finale at Athens.
One of the newest rivalries in the Texas-Oklahoma series, the Buccaneers hold a 14-9 advantage since the two programs first played in 1995.
NEO’s last win over Blinn previous to last season was a 42-31 decision in Brenham in 2012 under Dale Patterson.
Squaring off last year in the regular season finale at Miami’s Red Robertson Field, the two adversaries battled to a 13-13 halftime draw. Outscoring the Bucs by a 28-14 margin in the final two quarters, the Norsemen earned a 41-27 victory.
The NEO quarterback duo of Nick Johns and Cordale Grundy combined for 358 total yards passing on 24 of 46 along with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Tailback Darwin Thompson contributed 153 yards on 20 carries and one TD as the Golden Norse offense amassed 641 yards on 95 offensive plays.
“We worked real hard all week on not committing penalties that would stall or end our offensive execution,” Clay Patterson said. “The last two games (at Coffeyville, Kansas and at Little Rock) we’ve shot ourselves in the foot with too many mistakes.
“Without a motion, or holding or offsides call, we could have put more points on the board and kept the game out of reach,” Clay Patterson said. “Our offense has been pretty balanced so far and that’s what we want to continue.”
Patterson said NEO’s initial game plan against Arkansas Baptist was to run the ball more.
But the Buffaloes loaded the box on defense, which opened the doors for the NEO quarterbacks to throw the ball more.
“Both Wyatt and Cordale (Grundy) both played really, really well,” Patterson said. “Cordale came in after Wyatt had played three quarter and threw the ball well.”
Under Steigerwald’s direction, the Golden Norsemen lead the entire nation and the SWJCFC in total offense.
The Norse are averaging 540 yards per game that includes an average of 274.3 yards on the ground and 265.7 yards through the air.
Steigerwald ranks fifth in the country by completing 129 of 194 passes for 1,585 yards. He has recorded 22 touchdown passes with five interceptions.
Three players have been alternating in the Golden Norse backfield: Darwin Thompson, Darran Williams and Cortez Watson.
Thompson ranks fifth nationally while leading the SWJCFC with a 130.9-yard average per game. He has rushed for 1,047 yards on 120 carries with six TDs.
He also has nine catches for 70 yards and one touchdown.
During his two-year career at NEO, Thompson is only the third running back in school history to eclipse the 2,000-yard rushing mark.
He has gained 2,076 total yards to join Charles Elix (2,703 yards in 2003-04) and Josh Scobey (2,306 yards in 1998-99).
Williams has rushed for 697 yards on 94 carries with three touchdowns while Watson has gained 173 yards on 19 carries with three TDs.
Veteran Kobe Bryer leads the NEO receiving corps with 40 catches for 414 yards and three touchdowns.
Sophomore wide out Marquan Greene and veteran tight end Jace Sternberger rank fifth in the nation with four receiving touchdowns each.
Greene has 16 receptions for 182 yards while Sternberger has made 15 catches for 219 yards.
NEO ranks second in the conference on team defense by allowing an average of 305.4 total yards per game. Navarro College leads the SWJCFC by giving up an average of 293.8 yards per game.
The Golden Norse pass defense leads the conference by surrendering an average of 117.1 yards per game.
“I think our defense is playing really hard every series,” Clay Patterson said. “They are also limiting their mistakes when they make one.
“All teams make defensive mistakes, but not all teams play hard enough to overcome those mistakes,” he said. “We’re in playoff mode and that’s what our defense thrives on.”
Nine of the top 13 NEO defenders are sophomores led by linebacker Dillon Hall. He has made 17 unassisted tackles and 38 assists.
Outside linebacker Lamontre Huval has posted 24 solo tackles and 28 assists.
Veteran defensive end Cade Baumann leads the Norsemen with seven quarterback sacks.
Blinn generates an average of 459.3 total yards per game on offense while averaging 32.7 points per game.
Freshman Devin Williams starts at quarterback for the Bucs. He has completed 90 of 173 passes for 1,593 yards and 10 touchdowns with four interceptions. Williams has gained 286 yards on 60 carries with two touchdowns.
Another freshman, Carlos Grace, starts at tailback in the Blinn backfield. Grace has rushed for 804 yards on 179 carries with eight TDs.
“Blinn has done a really good job of staying under the radar all season long and beating people,” Clay Patterson said. “They really should have won the Tyler game (a 34-22 loss in Brenham on Sept. 30) and be undefeated.
“They are a very talented football team with one of the best quarterback’s in the conference. So, it will be a real challenge for us to go down there and beat them.”