Spring football has different feel for Ottawa University Braves

Greg Mast
The Ottawa Herald
Ottawa University junior Dayln Johnson looks to turn up field against Sterling Saturday in the 44-14 win.

Playing football games in the spring is a much different experience for Ottawa University coaches and players.

For Ottawa head football coach Kent Kessinger, it was a a different feel the week leading up to Saturday’s game against Sterling.

“All week I kept on telling myself, ‘We are playing a game in March,’ ” he said following Ottawa’s 44-14 victory over Sterling at AdventHealth Field. “I woke this morning and (thought) how many things am I forgetting that we would normally do in the fall. If I am forgetting things you have to know are players are probably doing it too.”

Spring football was mandated because of the pandemic. The NAIA moved all of its fall sports championships to the spring. The KCAC allowed teams to play the games that were postponed in the fall in March.

Ottawa scheduled five games this spring, but the opener a week ago against Bethany was canceled.

Ottawa University junior Jaylin King led the defense with six tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, one interception and one pass break up against Sterling.

Kessinger sees the opportunity this spring to prepare for next fall.

“We are looking at this as a two-goal focus,” Kessinger said. “Our first goal is week-to-week. We are playing games and we want to win games. Our second goal is a long-term goal.

“Every opportunity that we have here in the spring will only make us better in the fall. We have some guys that are not eligible for us right now, but they are still getting reps in practice. They are still getting an opportunity — more than we would have ever had —coming in to any spring. We get 15 practices in a normal spring. We will probably end up with 45 or 50 practices.”

Ottawa scored touchdowns on its first possession in five of six games played in the fall. Ottawa did that again, but fell flat and led just 14-7 at halftime.

“We started off really good, get things rolling then all of a sudden we went into our first and quarter lull,” Kessinger said. “We turned the ball over way too many times in that part.

“At halftime (we decided) we would try to get back out and get it going a little bit. It was good to see things come to fruition from what we have been practicing.”

Ottawa dominated the second half with a 30-point performance. The Braves finished with 465 yards of offense, 157 yards rushing and 308 yards passing.

Kessinger said part of that was getting used to live action again.

“Good to play somebody different and actually tackle,” he said. “It was good to tackle and block things that are moving as opposed to cans. Our defense swarmed to the ball really well. Our front three guys are really pretty tough. Jacob Garcia whenever they ran to him, one he was in the backfield and making tackles.”

Ottawa (5-2) plays Tabor 1 p.m. Saturday at home. Kessinger said Tabor will provide another test.

“This gives us an opportunity to improve,” Kessinger said. “We are facing a different front. We will have to adjust to that. We have to shore up the different blitzes we are going to see.”