OU sports top ground game in nation

Greg Mast
Ottawa University freshman running back Derrick Curtis leads the NAIA in rushing per game at nearly 160 yards per game. Twice he has gained more than 200 yards rushing in a game.

The Ottawa University football team sports one of the top rushing offenses in the NAIA.

The Braves are in the thick of the KCAC race because of its ground attack and opportunistic defense.

The Braves (3-1, 2-1) twice this season rushed for right at 300 yards in a game. Ottawa has been known for its wide-open passing attack in Kent Kessinger’s 17-year career.

Ottawa rushed for a season-best 370 yards, in last week’s 35-17 victory over Saint Mary. Ottawa ranks 10th in the NAIA in rushing at 200 yards per game.

Freshman running back Derrick Curtis rushed for 218 yards on 13 carries and scored three touchdowns against Saint Mary. He was named the KCAC Offensive Player of the Week. Curtis leads the NAIA in rushing at 157.8 yards per game. He rushed for 631 yards and averages 8.1 yards per attempt.

“Guys like Derrick, you don’t have to give him much space, he just needs a little space,” Kessinger said. “He needs a little crease and get that speed going and he is off to the races.”

Kessinger said the wind factor turned the game into a rushing game battle similar to the McPherson game a couple of weeks ago.

“You still need to be balanced, but it is nice to hang your hat on the run game,” he said.

Kessinger expects to open up the offense in the remaining three games during the fall portion of the season. Ottawa have four games scheduled during March.

The Braves’ defense gives up 367 yards per game and in the three wins surrendered just 51 points. Ottawa have forced 11 turnovers (seven interceptions, four fumbles) this season.

Colby Johnson leads the defense in tackles per game (13.3). The senior linebacker twice has been the KCAC Defensive Player of the Week and was the NAIA Player of the Week earlier this season.

The defense held Saint Mary to four first downs in the second half.

Ottawa plays 1 p.m. Saturday against Friends (2-3, 2-3) in Wichita. Friends has not played since Oct. 10 because of COVID-19 concerns.

Friends topped Sterling, 56-21, to snap a two-game slide. The Falcons had more than 600 yards of offense in the victory. Juan Salazar leads Friends in rushing yards per game (93.8), Quarterback Dan Dawdy averages 205 yards passing.

Ottawa dominated Friends in the past decade, winning nine of the past 11 games. Friends won last year’s game 20-13. Ottawa leads the overall series, 36-29-1. The Braves are 16-13-1 against the Falcons in Wichita. Ottawa’s last loss in Wichita came in 2008 when Friends nipped Ottawa, 46-45, on an improbable two-point conversion.