By Jason Bushen
Following a 26-24 victory in the Midwestern Football Conference Championship game on Saturday, the 11-0 Raiders have a legitimate chance of playing in the NJCAA National Championship game.
Entering their final week of the regular season, the Raiders were 9-0 and scheduled to take on the College of DuPage. But due to an on-field brawl in their previous game, DuPage was forced to forfeit.
With a 10-0 record and no room for error, the #5 ranked Raiders were ready to prove they were the best team in the conference. #7 Iowa Western was looking to avenge a 56-48 loss from earlier in the season, and started the game like a team on a mission. Behind an opportunistic defense, the Reivers caused four Raider turnovers in the first half, but headed to the locker-room with only a 21-17 lead to show for it.
It wouldn’t take long for the Raider’s explosive offense to get it going. The offense (that averaged over 52 points per game this season) marched right down the field and scored on their first possession of the second half to take a 23-21 lead.
But with the game on the line, the Raider’s defense made some season-saving plays. Iowa Western had two drives that entered Raider territory in the fourth quarter. One of which was ended when Terrell Porter picked off a Iowa Western pass and returned it 44 yards for a huge momentum shift. The other was made by stand-out DB Evan Ray.
“I thought a huge turning point was when Evan (broke up a pass) in the fourth quarter,” Annese said. Ray had a huge game for the Raiders, also making seven solo tackles.
The Raiders held on to win the game 26-24, and are now playing the waiting game. They are likely to move up in the standings with yet another win over a ranked opponent, but it is yet to be seen just how far that will be.
“We still need some help,” said quarterback coach Ryan Brady of the NJCAA poll.
Top-ranked Blinn College (Texas) lost last week in overtime, and is likely to fall in the NJCAA rankings. #2 Arizona Western and #3 East Mississippi still have games to play, and #4 Butler (Kansas) has one loss and did not play a ranked opponent last week.
“Hopefully we’ll move up. I told the players that they did all they could do,” Tony Annese said, “I’d certainly like a chance to prove we’re the best team in the country. Regardless of what happens, we’ll take our bowl game and run with it.”
With an 11-0 season and a MFC Championship under their belt, the Raiders have done everything possible to prove that they deserve a chance to play in the NJCAA title game.
“These kids have done such a great job putting in their time and effort week in and week out,” Annese said. “Since August, they have obviously worked very hard to be undefeated. I’m very happy for them.”