For the first time since 1991, Northeastern A&M’s Golden Norsemen will battle Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College.

NEO opens the home portion of the 2010 football season by hosting the ninth-ranked Panthers in a 7 p.m. contest on Thursday, Sept. 2.

A dedication of the new athletic training facility located in the north end zone of Robertson Field is planned for prior to the game.

The one-story structure is on schedule to be completed before the start of the regular season.

“We were looking for a game to fill the void in our schedule once Arkansas Baptist College decided not to join the Southwest Junior College Football Conference,” Golden Norse head coach Donnie Bigby said. “Coach (Mike) Virden and I got together and worked out a deal that allows us to play each other for a couple of years.”

Coach Mike Virden’s Ellsworth Panthers finished ninth in the nation last season after winning their second consecutive Graphic Edge Bowl titles with a 64-7 romp over Central Lakes-Brainard, Minn.

The Panthers finished 8-3 overall while winning the Midwest Football Conference.

NEO cruised to a 59-13 win over the Panthers in 1991 at Robertson Field to stand 9-0 in the series that started in 1965.

With 83 returnees expected back on both offense and defense from a 98-player roster last year, coach Virden and his staff spent the spring looking for a starting quarterback and a starting linebacker.

The Panthers featured 35 players from the state of Florida on their 2009  roster.

Veteran all-American quarterback Tirrell Rennie (6-0, 182 of North Lauderdale, Fla.) accounted for 72 per cent of the Panthers offense last season. Rennie rushed for 1,025 yards on 139 carries with 10 touchdowns.

He completed 207 of 348 passes for 2,863 yards and 27 TDs with nine interceptions.

Returnee Ricky Rowe (6-2, 188 of Miami, Fla.) appears to be the heir-apparent after completing 20 of 32 passes for 227 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. Rowe also rushed for 101 yards on 26 carries in eight games.

Two sophomores are challenging for starting time at the tailback position for the Panthers.

John Wallace (6-0, 225 of (6-1, 185 of Lauderhill, Fla.) rushed for 559 yards on 118 carries with nine TDs in 11 games as a freshman. Wallace also caught 31 passes for 294 yards and three touchdowns.

Veteran receiver Andre Thomas (5-9, 150 of Hollywood, Fla.) rushed for 101 yards on only 13 carries while catching 32 passes for 521 yards and four TDs.

Returning at tight ends for Ellsworth are sophomores John Rabe and Clayton Werkman. Rabe (6-4, 234 of Iowa Falls, Iowa) caught 25 passes for 488 yards and two TDs as a freshman. Werkman (6-4, 230 of Waverly, Iowa) made two receptions for 38 yards and one touchdown in the double tight end set.

Andre Thomas, Brandon Brown and Anthony Cooper return to bolster the Panthers receiving corps. Both Brown (6-2, 190 of Des Moines, Iowa) and Cooper (6-0, 165 of Cedar Rapids, Iowa) were redshirts last season.

Ellsworth returns 12 interior offensive linemen that saw some playing time as freshmen led by tackles Aaron Green (6-3, 327 of Cedar Falls, Iowa) and Paul Kerr (6-4, 325 of Gilman, Iowa).

Last season the Panthers defense limited the opposition to an average of 299.09 yards per game and 23.5 points per contest.

Gone from the Ellsworth defense is all-American linebacker Neal Issa (6-1, 220 of Des Moines, Iowa). Issa led the Panthers with 50 unassisted tackles and 91 assists while making six quarterback sacks for minus-34.5 total yards.

Expected to return along the defensive front are veterans Jarvis Pierce and Miraldo Michel at ends with Jerone Williams and Lawrence Smith at tackles.

Pierce (6-4, 237 of Charlotte, N.C.) recorded 12 solo tackles, 19 assists and six quarterback sacks for minus-46 yards.

Michel (6-3, 247 of Lauderhill, Fla.) made 13 unassisted tackles, 21 assists and three sacks for minus-26 yards.

Williams (6-3, 282 of St. Louis, Mo.) finished with 13 solo tackles, 31 assists and six quarterback sacks for minus-39.5 yards.

Smith (6-3, 278 of Pembrooke Pines, Iowa) posted three tackles and seven assists in seven games.

Inside linebackers Skylar Thornton (6-2, 207 of Lacona, Iowa) and Logan Lyon (6-1, 200 of Atalissa, Iowa) return to the middle of the Panthers defense.

Veterans Jake Stille (5-11, 174 of Swaledale, Iowa) and Brad Breckenridge (6-1, 183 of West Des Moines, Iowa) anchor the Panthers secondary.

Stille recorded five unassisted tackles and 10 assists in 11 games while Breckenridge posted 12 solo tackles and 37 assists.