I have had a few Bethel Wildcat fans email me to tell me how I am giving their team no respect, even though I picked them to win in round one. I feel Bethel is a quality football team that has done everything they have been asked to do this season with exception to their Cumberlands loss. I think Dino Kaklis is one of the brightest NAIA coaches in the country and I have no doubt that every coverage, every assignment and every inch of the USF playbook will be gone through with a fine tooth comb. I have all the respect in the world for this group of young men who have helped to take a program from nothing to the top of the NAIA.
But even with that said, you are playing the #1 team in the country this week. St. Francis has been to this dance before. In fact, they’ve been to the dance, ate the finger sandwiches, danced the hokey-pokey, drank the punch, danced with the hot prom queen and made it to the end of the dance only to watch the prom queen go home with the clean cut kid with the crew cut from Helena.
Right now you are standing in the corner wondering if people will notice your new slacks. This is the breakout game Bethel. If you get the win you will earn a lot of respect from a lot of people. If you lose you get to take dance lessons for the next year and show up as the schools bad boy next year. Maybe you are ready to do that Saturday. Time will tell.
The purist football game of the week will be in Marshall, Missouri between MoVal and Northwestern. Both teams are tremendously disciplined football teams with two of the best football coaches in the country heading them up. This game almost seems like a flashback game to the early 1980’s when Larry Korver was coaching the Raiders and Ken Gibler was at the helm of the Vikings. While those two coaching greats never met in a game we might be seeing history in the making with Troth and Otten facing off this week.
These squads might not have a bunch of NFL football prospect s playing for them, but they do have some of the most talented and hardest working kids in all of the NAIA. I think Northwestern has an edge offensively but Missouri Valley probably can cancel that slight edge out with the home field. From top to bottom this is the best game of the week.
Then we come down to the game that no one can get a feel for, Carroll and Saint Xavier. Based upon history and the team profiles for this season I will say this game is going to go one of two ways. Carroll will win this game handily with their defense offering no bend for the Cougars and the Saints offense getting on track. Or this will be a dogfight to the very end.
Even though Saint Xavier has an offense on paper that looks to be able to put up the points and cause match up problems the Saints D will have every step of the Cougar offense mapped out. Carroll’s D will not break in this game so the Cougars will need to find a way to maintain long drives and not turn the ball over. Even though people point to Carroll’s offense as their weakness this season there is no doubt that if the defense makes a big play the Carroll O will be ready to capitalize.
The Saints will not be able to score at will on SXU’s defense. But if they grind on the Cougars like they have done to so many teams this season they will be able to open up two or three shots to score in this game. In all honesty, the first team to 21 points will likely win this game.
So there are a few deeper thoughts on this week’s quarterfinal games. I’m just one guy following NAIA football. The important thing to remember is this season has been one of the most competitive seasons in NAIA football in recent history.