Ottawa is gunning for its fourth straight NAIA playoff appearance, all with this group. The seniors played a big role in Ottawa’s sterling home record with just six losses at Peoples Bank Field since 2006.
The Braves are 22-1 in the past 23 conference games heading into today’s final home game of the season against Friends. Kickoff is slated for 1:30 p.m.
Two of the seniors — Jake Johnson and Matt Gross — are five-year seniors, while the rest of the four-year players came in during the 2009 season.
“They have done a heck of a job of keeping [the winning] going,” Ottawa coach Kent Kessinger said of the seniors. “It will be a special day Saturday. It will be pretty emotional.”
The seniors understand the mission as the Braves need to keep winning for a chance at the playoffs and a third conference title in four years.
Ottawa (6-2, 6-1), ranked 19th, is in a three-way tie for the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference lead with No. 20 Tabor and No. 24 Kansas Wesleyan.
Kessinger doesn’t expect an easy game against Friends (6-3, 5-2). The Falcons sport one of the top defensive units in the nation. Friends ranks seventh in the NAIA in rushing yards allowed per game (91), 10th in sacks per game (3), 10th in points allowed (15.3), 18th in total defensive yards allowed per game (298.2), 19th in opponent fourth down conversion percentage (36.8), 28th in opponent first downs (151), 29th in defensive passing efficiency (110.7) and 29th in opponent third down conversion percentage (33.8).
The Falcon defense is led by NAIA All-American defensive end Dexter Davis, who is a candidate for the NAIA defensive player of the year. He ranks first in the NAIA in fumbles forced per game (0.70), sacks per game (1.4) and total sacks (13.0).
Kessinger said Davis can wreak havoc, especially coming after the quarterback.
“They are not a big blitzing team ... their front four does a good job,” Kessinger said. “It allows them to drop [seven] into coverage. They play a lot of man-to-man.
“The key for us is to keep their defensive line away from Shane [Gimzo].”
Ottawa has given opponents a two-pronged attack this season. The Braves average 420 yards with nearly 150 yards on the ground.
“We are running the football better than we ever had,” Kessinger said.
Ottawa continues to play musical chairs with its running backs. Tanner Staats, who had 63 yards last week, will get his first start. Gene Dydell is still nursing an ankle injury and Dexter Hayes is close to returning after suffering a knee injury.
“We will go with what we got,” Kessinger said. “The good thing, a lot of guys have gotten reps.”
The Ottawa defense in the past three years has given the Falcons fits, especially in the turnover department.
Kessinger said the Braves’ defense continues to improve.
“Our defense is starting to gel together,” he said. “We have been holding [opponents] to less points.”
Friends likes to play physical and run the ball with a committee of backs and uses two quarterbacks.
Kessinger said starting quarterback Jayme Bristow is more of a thrower than Derek Racette. He said with Bristow they run more play action. Friends uses a read-option style of game with Racette.
“They will be by far the best team we’ve played all year,” Kessinger said.
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