MIAMI — Two teams that appear in the top six of the NJCAA weekly football poll also have a long, storied past against each other collide at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, with the Southwest Junior College Football Conference championship up for grabs.
No. 2 seed Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College squares off against top seed Trinity Valley Community College in the title game. Both teams are 8-2 on the season.
Ranked No. 5 in the nation, the Golden Norsemen finished in a three-way tie with Trinity Valley and Blinn College for the regular season SWJCFC crown with identical 5-2 records.
This marks NEO’s highest regular season ranking since the Golden Norse finished No. 2 nationally in 2003.
Coach Brad Smiley’s No. 6 rated Cardinals handed the Golden Norse a 27-14 loss on Sept. 9 in Athens. Trinity Valley has won four straight SWJCFC regular season crowns.
Since NEO defeated Blinn, 35-26, in Brenham, Texas, to conclude the regular season, Trinity Valley gained the No. 1 seed, NEO No. 2, Blinn No. 3 and Navarro College No. 4 seed.
Last weekend in the conference semifinals, NEO eliminated Blinn by a 38-34 score at Red Robertson Field and Trinity Valley knocked off Navarro, 47-34, at Bruce Field.
Since the inception of the series in 1963, the Cardinals own a 19-17 edge. Trinity Valley has won 12 of the last 22 games played since the 2000 season.
Last year the Cardinals lost to the Norse, 30-29, in Miami during the regular season before spoiling NEO’s appearance in the conference semifinals with a 52-13 drubbing in Athens.
Prior to formation of the SWJCFC in 1995, the two teams met in the Texas Shrine Bowl in 1994 at Tyler, Texas. The Cardinals posted a 21-17 victory in overtime.
Since officially joining the league in 1996, the Golden Norsemen have faced Trinity Valley twice for the conference title.
NEO posted a 14-7 championship victory over Trinity Valley in 2002 at Red Robertson Field.
The Cardinals rallied for a 49-41 win against coach Rob Green’s Norsemen in 2005 on Bruce Field.
“Part of our philosophy since I arrived here has been that every single day, every single week and every single year we stay goal oriented,” Golden Norse head coach Clay Patterson said. “If we take care of things every day, all year round, we’ll be playing for our gold ball.
“ This game is no different,” Patterson said. “It’s just another day for us and we’re approaching every day to stay on goal and that’s what has brought us through this seven-game winning streak we’re on.”
Under Patterson’s guidance as offensive coordinator, the Golden Norsemen lead the nation by averaging 532.7 yards per game.
Reflecting a balanced approach, the Norse are gaining an average of 261.9 yards on the ground and 270.8 yards via the pass.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Wyatt Steigerwald directs the Golden Norsemen offense.
Through 10 games, Steigerwald has completed 167 of 256 passes for 1,265 yards and an NEO school record 29 touchdowns (the previous record for a season was 27 set in 2012 by Clayton Mitchem) with only six interceptions. He has rushed for 126 yards on 69 carries with two TDs.
Alternating in the NEO backfield at running back are sophomores Darwin Thompson and Cortez Watson, along with freshman Darran Williams.
Thompson leads the Norse ground game with 1,265 yards on 158 carries with six touchdowns. He has caught 10 passes for 78 yards and one TD.
Watson has rushed for 295 yards on 28 carries with five touchdowns. He has two receptions for 6 yards.
Williams has gained 673 yards on 100 carries while scoring three TDs.
Four sophomores share the receiving chores for the Golden Norse led by flanker Kobe Bryer with 50 catches for 521 yards and five touchdowns. He has also rushed for 37 yards on eight carries with one TD.
Veteran wide out KJ Wells has recorded 30 receptions for 439 yards and four touchdowns.
Wide receiver Marquan Greene has made 20 catches for 221 yards and five TDs.
Both wide out Marcheean Hair and tight end Jace Sternberger have contributed 263 total yards receiving. Hair has 19 receptions with no TDs while Sternberger has 17 catches with six touchdowns.
“I think the biggest things we’ve done has been to play well on special teams,” Patterson said. “We still have an issue with penalties, but have shown that we can overcome those penalties and some of our mistakes.
“Our resiliency is really showing through,” Patterson said. “We’re still trying to put a complete game together in this eight-game stretch.
“We really haven’t played a game where we feel like we played our best football,” Patterson said. “We’re still striving to put our best foot forward.
“Our mental toughness has been good and our resiliency has been good,” Patterson said. “As long as we take care of the football, we’re going to be ok.”
The Golden Norsemen are allowing an average of 340.7 total yards per game and 23.5 points. First year defensive coordinator Dustin Landry’s group ranks fifth in the nation while leading the conference by allowing an average of 136.6 yards per game through the air.
“We’ve worked hard to develop our depth on both sides of the football,” Patterson said. “We have guys, so that if we need them, they’ve already been in the fire.
“It will also help these kids get recruited to move on,” Patterson said. “We’re playing a lot of guys on both the d-line and the o-line, receivers, linebackers and across the board.”
Sophomore linebacker Dillon Hall ranks 12th in the conference with 26 unassisted tackles and 75 assists.
Sophomore cornerback Aliik Sezer is 13th in the league with 34 solo tackles and 33 assists.
Veteran linebacker Lamontre Huval ranks 17th with 35 unassisted tackles and 33 assists.
“Coach Smiley has been really, really good to my family and we stay in contact throughout the year,” Patterson said. “But, this is just another game to us because the opponent doesn’t matter, rankings don’t matter, but, all that matters is NEO.
“We met last week at the coaches meeting and both of us are wanting to get together to see which team is better,” Patterson said. “This game is about a bunch of guys from both schools going out and working their butts off trying to win a championship.”