It is the fourth straight year the two rivals have met on the gridiron with Baker winning the past two games. Ottawa won in 2010 when the two resumed playing after a 17-year absence.
It matches two ranked teams. Baker is No. 15 and Ottawa is No. 18.
“The guys that have been here for awhile understand it is going to be a dogfight,” 10th-year Ottawa coach Kent Kessinger said. “The first year was kind of tough ... we had not played them in 17 years. The next year, they took it too us. Last year, we let it slip away with turnovers. There were definitely opportunities to win.”
“It is definitely one the guys have to be up for. We are starting off with the 15th-ranked team in the nation.”
Kessinger said this game is important for both teams as they have playoff aspirations.
“It is a Baker University now rivalry,” he said. “It is one of the better crowds. We are 10 miles apart. It gets your juices flowing. You can’t help get excited for that atmosphere.”
As with all first games, there is a lot of unknowns. Ottawa is attempting to replace seven starters on defense and will have new quarterback in junior college transfer Mike Behr.
“We have a lot of new players that are in spots that don’t have game experience in. Some have been in our program for awhile. In our offensive line, we have four seniors. All of them will be going into two years of starting.
“Defensively we lost a lot of starters too. Getting those guys that were backups into a new roles.”
Football is a game played in a series of plays with momentum swings. Kessinger and his staff has been concentrating on the small things that could add up to big things.
“We have focused on the little things,” Kessinger said. “Little things on the special teams. That is what hurt us a couple of years ago. Talking about taking care of the football.
“Defensively, how do we get in our proper run fits. What are we are going to do to disrupt their timing in their passing game. We hit on the bunch of little things that hopefully will pay dividends.”
The offense is led by two senior receivers in Jon Hilliger, an All-American candidate, and Travis Adamson, who is a four-year player. Hilliger caught more than 90 passes a year ago.
Two new guys are Behr and junior tailback Luke Lundy, who transferred from Fort Scott Community College. Kessinger said Behr has taken off since he was named the starter.
Lundy is a load at 240 pounds, but has the shiftiness of a smaller tailback.
“He is a guy who will be a more physical back we have had in the past,” Kessinger said. “He is a good football player.”
Hometown junior Gene Dydell has moved from halfback to fullback and will receive his second start of his career.
“We have tried to make that a more athletic position,” Kessinger said. “It helps us if we can be multiple on offense. That is when we have had our best offenses. Gene adds to that.”
The defense will be about swarming to the ball.
“We have taken a look at the athletes we have and built the defense around them,” Kessinger said. “There are some things that this defense does better than last year’s defense.
“We are trying to mesh. We try to teach our players to run to the football and gang tackle.”
Special teams have been a big point of emphasis, especially with all three kickers returning.
“We have spent a lot more time on special teams this fall camp than we ever have,” Kessinger said.
Junior Jeff Stamp returns to kick field goals and extra points. Junior Dominic Sigala will kickoff and Adamson to handle the punting duties.
Kessinger said the return of coach Robert Messinger will help the special teams.
“He worked with Miami on their special teams,” Kessinger said. “He brings a wealth knowledge in what they did.”