Ottawa is making its fourth straight NAIA playoff appearance and won back-to-back conference championships for the first time since the mid-1960s.
Ottawa has a playoff victory in its history. It came in 2009 when the Braves rallied to defeat Hastings, Neb., 40-34.
Since then Ottawa has lost three straight playoff games to Lindenwood, Marion and Azusa Pacific.
Ottawa (8-2) looks at today’s game against No. 2 Missouri Valley (10-0) in Marshall, Mo., as an opportunity to showcase the Braves on the national stage. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.
“In two of our [playoff] losses, we kind of doubted if we could hang with these teams,” Ottawa coach Kent Kessinger said. ”Once, we found out we could, we played pretty well.
“We have been there now four years in a row. We deserve to be here. This is what our program does. We go to the playoffs. We are one of the top 16 programs in the nation.”
This has been one of those seasons without a dominant team in the NAIA, especially with the defections of past powers such Sioux Falls, Azusa Pacific and Lindenwood.
Ottawa senior Donald Anderson said the Braves have a good feeling heading into the playoffs.
“Looking back at our four playoff games, this is probably our most favorable matchup,” he said. “I feel like we can compete if we play like we can play.”
The playoff game pits two of the top overall programs NAIA history. Missouri Valley is the winningest NAIA program with 582 wins. Ottawa has 531 victories.
Missouri Valley has won 17 conference titles, while Ottawa has 20.
“It is a great matchup for us,” Kessinger said.
Kessinger and Missouri Valley coach Paul Troth have known each other for awhile. Troth guided the Vikings to five straight playoff berths.
“He runs a very solid program,” Kessinger said.
The two teams will see each other again in the second game of the 2013 season in the first year of the KCAC/HAAC series since both were their conference champions.
“We might get a little rivalry going,” Kessinger said.
Missouri Valley’s No. 2 ranking is the highest in its history, while Ottawa won eight straight games to move up to No. 15 in the final poll.
Missouri Valley’s defense is No. 2 in points allowed (12.3) and fourth in total defense (243.5 yards).
“It is the best overall defense we have faced this year,” Kessinger said. “They run to the football extremely well. They are very pressure-oriented defensively. They are solid in their front seven. We have faced similar type guys. They do a lot of things where they can be physical and run to the football.”
Ottawa senior quarterback Shane Gimzo, the KCAC player of the year, said the Braves need to play their game.
“It is definitely a good defense,” Gimzo said. “If we do what we can do and execute we will be fine. It is pretty even. It is a matter of who will make the fewest mistakes.”
Anderson said Ottawa’s defense understands its mission.
“It will go through us,” the KCAC defensive player of the year said. “They can’t win if they don’t score.”
Ottawa area sports can be followed on twitter @ottawasports1