MIAMI — Returning to the semifinals of the Southwest Junior College Football Conference for the second consecutive season, the No. 2 seed Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College Golden Norsemen face No. 3 seed Blinn College, Saturday, Nov. 4 at 2 p.m., on Red Robertson Field.
Ranked No. 17 in the weekly National Junior College Athletic Association poll, the Norsemen upset No. 4 Blinn College, 35-26, Saturday, Oct. 28, at ISD Cub Stadium in Brenham, Texas.
With the victory in the regular season finale for both teams, the game results actually created a three-way tie for the conference crown.
NEO, Trinity Valley and Blinn each stand 4-2 in conference play while the Norsemen and TVCC are 7-2 overall and the Buccaneers finish with a 6-2 season mark.
Winners of five consecutive SWJCFC regular season championships, No. 9 ranked Trinity Valley earned the No. 1 seed via a 27-14 victory over the Golden Norse on Sept. 9, in Athens, Texas.
The Cardinals host No. 4 seed and No. 18 ranked Navarro College (4-3, 6-3) at 3 p.m., Saturday, at Athens’ newly remodeled Bruce Field in the other conference semifinal matchup.
The semifinal winner with the highest seed will host the SWJCFC Championship at 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 11.
“Blinn didn’t see our best game Saturday,” Golden Norse head coach and offensive coordinator Clay Patterson said. “We probably left about 126 passing yards and at least two touchdowns out on the field because of penalties.
“We’ll spend quite a bid of time this week trying to clean up our performance,” Patterson said. “Overall, we had a great team performance, we just need to eliminate a few mistakes.”
After an exchange of punts to start the game, the Golden Norsemen drew first blood on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Steigerwald to redshirt freshman wide out Kobe Bryer. Riley Hawthorn kicked the extra point at the 1-minute mark for a 7-0 NEO lead.
Blinn’s offense bogged down at its own 46-yard line on their next possession. A fake punt by Ryan Buckley was stopped by NEO’s defense with 12:03 left in the second quarter.
The Golden Norse drove down inside the red zone, but the Buccaneers shut down NEO on a fourth-and-2 attempt with 8:25 until halftime.
Mounting an 88-yard, nine-play drive, the Bucs tied the score at 3:35 as quarterback Devin Williams crossed the goal line from 3-yards out. Buckley’s PAT created a 7-7 tie.
Following a fumble recovery by NEO freshman defensive tackle Devon Bajek at the Trinity Valley 21-yard line, NEO needed only three plays to regain the lead.
Steigerwald scored from 2-yards out on a quarterback sneak and Hawthorn’s point-after gave NEO a 14-7 cushion with 20 seconds remaining before intermission.
Starting the third quarter, Blinn defensive back Vonte Davis not only recovered the opening kickoff, but five minutes later Davis forced a fumble that was recovered by Issiah Moore at the NEO 32-yard line.
Over a four-minute period the Bucs used eight plays before running back Carlos Grace scored on a 2-yard plunge with 2:49 left in the third quarter. NEO defensive end Dimeon Dunlap blocked Buckley’s extra point for a 14-13 deficit for Blinn.
Consuming 2:17 of the clock, the Golden Norsemen received a 23-yard touchdown run by Cortez Watson. Hawthorn’s PAT gave the Norse a 21-13 margin heading into the fourth quarter.
Steigerwald found tight end Jace Sternberger open on a crossing route for a 12-yard TD pass with 12:38 remaining in the game. The PAT by Hawthorn increased NEO’s lead to a 28-13 margin.
Less than two minutes later, Blinn retaliated with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Williams to wide out Sicory Smith. Buckley’s point-after rallied the Bucs to a 28-20 deficit.
A 36-yard run by Grace set up the touchdown pass from Williams.
NEO wasted no time as Steigerwald needed only 53 seconds to drive the Norse 57 yards to pay dirt.
Sophomore wide out KJ Wells got behind the Blinn secondary for a 26-yard TD pass from Steigerwald with 9:17 left in the game. Hawthorn tacked on the extra point for a 35-20 NEO cushion.
Blinn received a 3-yard touchdown run by Grace with 6:32 remaining on the clock to trim the deficit to a 35-26 score. The extra point by Buckley was blocked to conclude the scoring.
Steigerwald, the fourth ranked passer in the nation, enters post-season with 25 TD passes.
Last week’s NJCAA National Offensive Player of the Week, Steigerwald completed 15 of 24 passes against Blinn for 205 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Sophomore Cordale Grundy completed 2 of 2 passes for 6 yards.
“Once again, we didn’t play the best that we can play, but once we clean up our mistakes we need to go out and take the next step,” Patterson said. “We need to execute at a higher level and put things all together and get it done.”
Averaging 6.4 yards per carry, the Golden Norse ground game finished with 300 yards on 47 carries.
Veteran running back Darwin Thompson led the Norse with 128 yards on 20 carries and became the fourth-leading NEO single-season rusher with 1,178 yards.
Watson finished with 100 yards on eight carries and one touchdown.
Bryer led the NEO receiving corps with five catches for 56 yards and one TD. KJ Wells also made five catches for 49 yards and one touchdown while Antwan Woods contributed two receptions for 54 yards.
Quarterback Devin Williams led the Blinn offense with 164 passing yards in 15 completions, and 68 rushing yards for one touchdown. Tailback Carlos Grace followed with 136 rushing yards for two touchdowns, while wide receiver Dandre Reed posted 106 yards.