Opening the regular season for the second straight year on their home turf, the Northeastern A&M Golden Norsemen have issued a "Code Blue" for their fans as the Scotties of Highland (Kan.) Community College come to Miami for a 7 p.m. game.
Keeping with the Code Blue theme, anyone wearing royal blue clothing will be admitted free of charge to the game.
Prior to Saturday’s game, fans are invited to a tailgate party underneath the canopy on the practice field located just east of the field. Cost for the meal, prepared by Sodexo, includes bratwurst and is $5 per person.
"We want to encourage our fans to come out and set up their own tailgate situation in the area just west of the cable between the fieldhouse and the practice field on the east side," Golden Norse head coach Dale Patterson said. "What better way for people to enjoy the 'real football experience' than to come early and associate with other fans."
Tickets at the gate are $5 per person and $3 for children 12 and under while a season ticket is $25 per person.
Going with the resuscitation theme of Code Blue, Patterson begins the second year of his second stint as head coach of the Golden Norsemen.
Last season, despite winning three non-conference games, the Norsemen were winless in six Southwest Junior College Football Conference games since joining the league in 1996.
But, after spending seven seasons at Oklahoma State University, Patterson has compiled a 37-23 record against teams from the SWJCFC and an 11-5 mark against teams from Kansas.
Last year the Golden Norse earned a 26-20 win over Garden City, Kan., to start the season.
Ryan Held, former assistant coach at Butler (Kan.) Community College, made his head coaching debut last Saturday as the Highland Scotties dropped a 20-7 decision to Fort Scott, Kan., at Highland’s Kessinger Field.
Last season, the Scotties struggled to a 1-5 record in the KJCCC and a 1-8 overall mark.
The two teams have only played four games in the series and have not met on the gridiron since 1979.
NEO has outscored Highlands by a 110-31 margin which includes a 43-0 shutout in the last game.
Starting in the Golden Norse offensive backfield will be sophomores Clayton Mitchem at quarterback and Gerald Howse at tailback.
Mitchem (6-0, 175 from Spiro) started in the final five games last season as a freshman. Mitchem rushed for 134 yards on 60 carries with two touchdowns while completing 50 of 97 passes for 508 yards and four TDs with two interceptions.
Howse (6-2, 220 from Murfreesboro, Tenn.) earned all-conference first team honors after rushing for 590 yards on 136 carries and nine touchdowns as a freshman.
"Another thing we want to stress is turnovers," Patterson said. "A lot of times the first game is determined by mistakes. We’ve worked very hard in the preseason with our offense about not turning the ball over. We didn’t have any fumbles and only four interceptions during our two-hour intrasquad scrimmage last Sunday and those were made by three different units."
Sophomores Garrett Powell, Tre Stearns and Michael Thompson comprise the Norsemen receiving corps along with redshirt freshman Hank Lowe at tight end.
Powell (6-1, 195 from Bartlesville) also earned all-conference honors after averaging 36.5 yards on 48 punts. Powell caught four passes for 47 yards.
Stearns (6-3, 190 from Tulsa Washington) returns at another receiver spot. Stearns led the Norsemen with 23 catches for 239 yards and two TDs. He returned one kickoff for 20 yards.
Thompson (6-2, 185 from Bartlesville) had six receptions for 184 yards and three touchdowns in seven games.
Lowe (6-6, 235 from Tulsa Kelley) sat out much of preseason with an ankle problem, but is at 100 percent for the game.
"I think we’ve got some outstanding running backs that will help us have a little bit more emphasis in this game on running," Patterson said. "We’re a little further along in our running game than our passing game. But we still want to have a balance between the run and pass.
"We’ve got a couple of little injuries along the offensive line that could force a couple of starters to sit this game out," Patterson said. "But, we still have some depth that should make our interior line effective."
Sophomore left guard Jake Stubblefield (6-5, 325 from Blanchard) and right guard redshirt freshman Caleb Craig (6-4, 315 from Harrah) are both very questionable for this game.
"Our defense is really coming on and becoming more consistent," Patterson said. "We have a couple of injuries at corner that have slowed us down a little bit, but compared to last year we’re a lot better.
"We’ve had to do a little more shuffling around on defense because we lost a lot of people on that side of the football," Patterson said. "So, it’s a little bit of ‘work in progress’ on defense to see who’s going to step up and contribute at a few positions."
Redshirt freshman Deondre Gray (6-2, 255 from Putnam City) and sophomore Jaiari Dunaway (6-2, 230 from Murfreesboro, Tenn.) start at end with veteran Deonte Cruse (6-2, 295 from Murfreesboro, Tenn.) starting at nose guard and redshirt freshman Alex Villarreal (6-4, 290 from Hildago, Texas) at tackle in NEO’s 4-3 scheme.
Dunaway (6-1, 225 from Murfreesboro, Tenn.) ranked fourth on the team as a freshman with 36 solo tackles, 50 assists, one quarterback sack for minus-10 yards, two deflected passes and three fumbles caused.
Cruise (6-2, 295 from Murfreesboro, Tenn.) earned all-Southwest Junior College Football Conference honorable mention recognition last season at tackle. He ranked fifth on the team with 36 unassisted tackles, 34 assists, two quarterback sacks for a minus-13 yards and one fumble recovery.
Transfer Jon Bullock along with sophomores De’angelo Jennings and Dominique Petties anchor the Golden Norse linebacking corps.
Bullock (6-2, 214 from Broken Arrow) spent one season at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
Jennings (6-2, 215 from Bixby) was the sixth-ranked tackler for the Golden Norse defense as a freshman with 35 unassisted tackles, 29 assists, three deflected passes, one interception and two recovered fumbles.
Petties (6-1, 220 from Duncan) made 20 solo tackles, 26 assists, one quarterback sack for minus-2 yards and one pass deflection in seven games as a freshman.
"In today’s football, you just can’t hold people deep in their own territory," Patterson said. "You’ve got to make stops at the right time, get a couple of turnovers and anymore if you can hold a team to a 3-and-out series, that’s like a turnover because it just doesn’t happen that much anymore.
"Another factor is that playing defense is a little bit more physically taxing on a team and you have to make more substitutions," Patterson said. "These days players can’t go all out for 20 or 30 plays. They have to have a breather or they make more mental mistakes."
According to Patterson, the name of the game on both sides of the ball is who’s going to be a playmaker.
"Not only do we have depth at running back, but we’ve got a lot of experience at receivers. Who’s going to step up and break the big play," Patterson said. "That hurt us a lot last year on defense cause we didn’t have a guy to step up and make plays."