The Ottawa University football team knows it must avoid any kind of letdown today to win its third conference title in four years and secure a fourth straight NAIA playoff bid.
No. 16 Ottawa (7-2, 7-1) plays 1:30 p.m. at winless Bethel.
Ottawa coach Kent Kessinger understands the pitfalls of taking any opponent lightly. Kessinger said Bethel does have good football players, but not enough of them.
The Threshers were rocked in late July with the resignation of their coach and played the season with an interim coach and not many players on the roster.
“They don’t have a lot of depth,” Kessinger said. “They play hard.”
Kessinger said this year’s football season has seen upsets and parity. The NAIA poll has teams with four losses at the bottom and only three unbeatens at the top. The Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference top three teams are separated by a game and at one point had a six-way tie for the lead.
“Parity in the NAIA is mirrored by the KCAC,” Kessinger said. “You will get everybody’s best shot. You can’t look past Saturday or there will be no more Saturday’s [this season].”
“There are things we want to get better at,” Kessinger said. “We want to put it all together. It is all the little things.”
The players have had a good week of preparation, Kessinger said.
“We have been pretty focused,” he said. “We are 60 minutes away from ensuring a conference championship.”
This would be Ottawa’s 20th overall title and 19th in the KCAC. Ottawa won the Heart of America title in 1972.
Ottawa has been through this cycle for three straight seasons. In 2010, Ottawa lost early to McPherson and won its final seven games to get into the playoffs.
Last year, Ottawa started 0-2 and won nine straight games to gain a KCAC title and the playoffs.
The Braves were 0-2 this season and have won seven straight to put themselves in this position.
Kessinger said putting together those streaks the earlier years gave Ottawa hope this season after losses to Baker and Kansas Wesleyan.
He said the returners knew it was possible.
“We had to regroup,” he said. “We got back to work.”
Ottawa senior safety Logan Schultz said each week is a championship week.
“We have to take them one game at a time,” he said. “It is a big motivator when you know you have to win. It makes it a challenge. Each week is a playoff week. If you lose, hope for playoffs are definitely are [gone]. It is a fun way to go out.”
The Ottawa defense has played its best football since the first part of October, especially in last week’s 35-3 win over Friends. Ottawa forced a school-record nine turnovers.
“We managed to overcome our deficiencies,” Kessinger said. “The big part was because we played such stifling defense. They have been causing turnovers. The defense gives us shorter fields.”
On offense, Ottawa has been more efficient moving the ball in the past few games.
“Shane has been really accurate throwing the ball,” Kessinger said. “We distribute the ball well.”
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