Ottawa shook off an early-season 31-28 loss to Kansas Wesleyan last year to win its third KCAC title in four years.
The Braves sit in a four-way tie for the KCAC lead at 5-1 with three games to play.
So today’s matchup against the Coyotes at Peoples Bank Field is a must-win for the Braves if they expect to contend for a fifth straight playoff berth.
“I don’t want to put my eggs in that basket,” Ottawa coach Kent Kessinger said. “If you win out and get the automatic bid, you are in for sure. Obviously this is a huge game for us.
“The KCAC has really improved. We have four teams in the top 20. That bodes well for us. I hope it pays off.”
No. 11 Ottawa (6-2, 5-1) has been in playoff mode the past few weeks since the Sterling loss.
“We are going to get everybody’s best shot,” Kessinger said. “If we want to be in the playoffs, we have to focus hard and practice hard.”
Ottawa had six turnovers and more than 600 yards of offense in that game.
“We kept giving them opportunity after opportunity and they took advantage of it,” Kessinger said. “We have to take care of the football if we are going to beat a team like Kansas Wesleyan. They are on an upward tick. They are pretty solid football team.”
Ottawa has been a spurty team this season on offense and defense. Last week, the defense held Southwestern to 15 yards in the second half after giving up 270 in the first half.
The offense cranked out nearly 700 yards offense, which was the third-best for a single-game in school history. That came on the heels of a sub-par performance against Sterling.
“We were able to put everything together,” junior receiver Josh Stangby said. “We were able to keep the defense off balance. It is hard to play both. Every practice since the Sterling game, we have become revamped as a team. We have to respect Kansas Wesleyan. We are trying to keep our level of play up there.”
The passing game came alive with nearly 400 yards against Southwestern. Stangby expects more the same as the season progresses.
“We did what we do in practice and what we should have been doing in every game,” Stangby said. “It felt pretty good. We finally are buying in what coach K is saying. We are seeing how good we can be.”
Kessinger said the passing game became a strength and needs to remain that way.
The coach said Kansas Wesleyan offense can be dangerous. The Coyotes are averaging 430 yards per game.
“They like to spread you out and go up tempo. That is something that we have to compete against. That is what Southwestern did to start the game. They make you guard space. They run zone read.
“We have to do a good job of getting to our run fits. Disguise some different coverages. Making it to where they have to make decisions. One of the reasons they go uptempo is to keep you basic. If you adjust to that and make them think, that will slow them down.”