The Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference title is on the line. Playoff berths are hanging in the balance. Plus, there is the pride factor.
So today’s 1:30 p.m. game between Ottawa and Tabor at Peoples Bank Field has a lot riding on it.
“There are a lot of story lines to it,” Ottawa coach Kent Kessinger said. “Going back to last year ... it was an emotional game. Our guys fought for 60 minutes. We ended getting a fumble for a score that won us the football game. We went on to win a championship.
“People talked all season this would be the conference championship determinator. We have the opportunity for a conference championship. Possibility of playoffs and host a playoff game. Right now, we are in the top 8 in the nation. We have not done that for a couple of years. This does mean a lot. This is a big, big game.”
Ottawa (8-2, 7-1) can at least tie for the KCAC title with Sterling with a win. Tabor (8-2, 6-2) can spoil that party, but could tie for the championship with a Sterling loss and earn a playoff spot. A loss would end the Tabor season.
The Braves have won 26 straight KCAC home games. Ottawa does have a distinct homefield advantage. It is the final home regular-season game for the seniors.
“It is senior day for us,” Kessinger said. “The last one we are guaranteed. We do love playing at home. I like our crowd support. It makes a big difference.”
“We know what is at stake,” he said. “Nobody wants to lose. We will be focused as ever. If we are physical and execute, we will be fine.”
Ottawa has turned to the ground attack this season, averaging 252 yards per game, which ranks seventh in the NAIA.
“One of the things we have been working on the last couple of years is able to establish a more of a run game,” Kessinger said. “Teams we lost to in the playoffs have been run-oriented teams. Each one made a little run. The balance —what we bring to the table — that suits us well for a playoff run. The key is we have to get there.”
Tabor is also run-oriented and leads the NAIA in rushing with more than 3,000 yards.
“When you play an option-style team like Tabor, you have to be extremely disciplined,” Kessinger said. “Our motto will be attention to detail.”