The Ottawa University and Sterling College football game has been an intriguing matchup for several years, but has really been interesting in the past decade.
Ottawa coach Kent Kessinger and Sterling coach Andy Lambert are both in their ninth season. The Warriors kept Ottawa from the playoffs in 2008 with a win over the Braves in the season finale.
Ottawa won the next three, but not without some dramatic finishes. Ottawa needed a late two-point conversion to nip Sterling in 2009.
The Braves (4-2, 4-1) need a victory 1:30 p.m. today over the Warriors (1-5, 1-4) in Sterling to remain in the chase for the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference title race.
Kessinger does not expect anything easy today.
“It is always a very tough game,” Kessinger said. “Coach Lambert does a good job. They play hard for 60 minutes.”
Kessinger said the Braves staff has a lot of respect for Lambert and his staff.
“We go after a lot of the same kids,” Kessinger said.
Sterling may not have a sterling record, but the coach said that is a bit misleading. The Warriors lost to Saint Mary in overtime after missing an extra point. Sterling fell to Kansas Wesleyan by four points and to Tabor by five. Ottawa is tied with those two for the KCAC lead.
“You have to throw the record out the window,” Kessinger said. “Their win-loss does not reflect at all of their ability. They will be fired up. We have to go out west. It is a different place to play. This is just as important as any game we have played this year.”
What makes Sterling so tough on Ottawa is the matchup. Ottawa’s offense has been slowed down by Sterling, even in the past three wins.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Lambert plays chess with Kessinger, who calls the Ottawa’s offensive plays.
“Coach Lambert does a good job of scheming us up,” Kessinger said. “They have a 3-4 front. You don’t know where they are coming from.”
Ottawa has harder time scoring against the Warriors than any other team in the KCAC. Kessinger said Sterling does not beat itself and plays fundamentally-sound football.
Sterling scored 49 points last week against Bethel, which was the second-most points scored on the Threshers this season.
“They can score,” Kessinger said. “They are making plays. They are throwing the ball better. They will run misdirection.”
Ottawa is coming off its most complete game in the 38-14 win over McPherson last week.
Another factor is the wind that always blows in western Kansas. Kessinger, who grew up in Lindsborg, understands how the wind can change the game plan and special teams becomes an even bigger factor.
A poor punt into the wind gives the receiving team a short field.
“Special teams are big,” Kessinger said. “The wind will be [howling].”
Ottawa took advantage of practicing in the wind a couple of days and went to the grass practice field. Sterling plays on a grass surface.
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