Primed to play the roll of the spoiler after missing a chance to make the Southwest Junior College Football Conference playoffs, Northeastern A&M's Golden Norsemen conclude the season Saturday by hosting the Tyler Junior College Apaches.
Kickoff is set for at 2 p.m. at Robertson Field.
“Our biggest challenge going into this game is to finish with a winning record,” Golden Norse head coach Rob Green said. “It's been a frustrating, disappointing season, not only for our coaches and players, but more importantly, our loyal fans.
“Still, in this day of parity at almost every level of football, there's something to be said for finishing with a winning record,” Green said. “It's tough to go 12-0, especially in this conference.”
A tailgate party will start at 1 p.m. under the big top tent located in the north end zone.
Cost of the meal is $6 per person and will include foot-long cheese coneys, Fritos, cookies and a drink. Tailgate tickets will be sold at the northeast gate.
More than 20 sophomores will be recognized for their two-year contribution to the Golden Norse football program.
Game tickets will go on sale at 1 p.m. Cost is $6 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens.
After suffering a 70-31 loss to fifth-ranked Kilgore College last weekend in Kilgore, Texas, the Golden Norsemen failed to make the SWJCFC post-season playoffs for only the fourth time since they became a member in 1996.
NEO enters the final game with a 1-4 mark in the conference and a 4-4 overall record.
First-year head coach Danny Palmer has guided the Tyler Apaches to a 4-4 season record and a 2-3 mark in the conference.
Tyler earned a 42-7 victory over Trinity Valley last weekend for their second straight win.
Last season under Jaimie Critchlow, the Apaches finished fifth in the conference with a 2-4 record. They were 5-4 on the year.
“Going into this game, we'll go with Bo at quarterback and either Shaun Baker-Hughes or Jeremiah Sampson at running back,” Green said. “That combination was really working for us against Kilgore until Bo got the cramps and tweaked his ankle.
“He really had the hot hand the first half. So, depending on the circumstances, we won't move Bo to tailback and run Kaelin Woods in at quarterback.”
Bowling (5-10, 205 of Tonkawa) became NEO's all-time leading rusher at quarterback. He has gained 1,003 yards on 172 carries with 14 touchdowns.
The previous school record was 963 yards on 87 carries and nine TDs by Doug Mathews set in 1967.
Bowling ranks sixth in the nation in rushing and ninth in total offense.
As a passer, Bowling has completed 35 of 72 passes for 542 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions. He has also caught eight passes for 64 yards and returned seven punts for 53 yards.
Redshirt freshman Kaelin Woods also set a record by completing 28 of 51 passes for 342 yards in a 47-36 loss to Cisco, Texas, on Sept. 29 in Miami.
The previous record was a 20 of 34 performance for 319 yards by Justin Southerland against Navarro, Texas, in 2001.
Freshmen Baker-Hughes has rushed for 287 yards on 55 carries and scored four TDs while Sampson has contributed 266 yards on 36 carries.
“We've got to do a better job of picking up blocks and maintaining them,” Green said. “Not only do we need to get better blocks in the backfield, but also at receivers and along the entire offensive front.”
Another record-setter for the Golden Norse offense is sophomore wide receiver Curtis Tucker (6-1, 208 of Cushing).
During his two-year career, Tucker has become NEO's all-time leading receiver with 81 catches for 1,518 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The previous record was held by Billy Williams (1990-91) with 68 receptions for 1,438 yards and 14 TDs.
Thus far this season, Tucker ranks third in the nation while leading the SWJCFC with 43 receptions for 777 yards and four touchdowns.
Sophomores Kevin Radford and Dee Williams complete the Golden Norse receiving corps. Radford has 20 catches for 228 yards and five touchdowns while Williams has 10 catches for 111 yards.
“This is a typical Tyler team in some respects because they still like to run the football and they play great defense,” Green said. “We expect them to play the best game they've played all year because they're on a roll.
“They still feel like they have a chance to go to the playoffs, so it will be lights-out for them,” Green said. “There is still the possibility of two more weeks of football left for them, even though we'll be through with the regular season after this game.”
While the Golden Norsemen defense has struggled by allowing an average of 386.4 yards per game, the unit features three players that are individually ranked in the nation's top 20 defenders.
Sophomore middle linebacker Jayson Bates (6-1, 237 of Alva) is second in the nation with 51 unassisted tackles and 56 assists. Bates leads the team with two fumble recoveries.
Veteran strong safety Emmanuel Jones (6-0, 205 of Tulsa Union) ranks 9th in the nation with 56 solo tackles and 34 assists.
He has recorded 10 deflected passes while returning one interception 31 yards.
Former Miami Wardog Logan Zabel (6-2, 205) ranks 13th in the nation as an outside linebacker.
Zabel has made 42 solo tackles and 45 assists with three quarterback sacks for minus-20 yards.
“Basically, Tyler is an I-formation team that likes to pound the ball at you over and over again,” Green said. “Against Arkansas Baptist, they only threw the ball five times. Then, they'll fake one direction and boot-leg off that and throw to some very good receivers.”
The availability of sophomore starters Leotist Gordon (5-9, 183 of Putnam City) and Kylee Hill (5-10, 191 of Bristow) is yet to be determined.
Gordon, a cornerback has missed the last three games with a sprained knee while Hill, a free safety, has missed two games with an ankle sprain.
“Where our kids are kind of down in the dumps about the way things have turned out, Tyler is at the other end of the emotional roller coaster,” Green said. “They are just hitting their stride with a two-game winning streak.
“One of the unique things about this game is that both these teams have been in the same place, just at different times.”