Vikings eyeing playoffs, Jimmies playing spoiler
Putting the cart before the horse is not something coaches like to do, but fans and media are great at it. When you can combine speculation and projection into a big-time rivalry, well, then you really got something. That's the case here today wh...
Putting the cart before the horse is not something coaches like to do, but fans and media are great at it.
When you can combine speculation and projection into a big-time rivalry, well, then you really got something.
That's the case here today when Jamestown College looks to play spoiler as they host 16th-ranked Valley City State in a very big game for the Vikings, who have won six straight games.
With games remaining against Mayville State (0-4 DAC, 3-5 overall) and Robert Morris (Ill.) -- a program in its first year of existence -- a win today for the Vikings would put them in prime position to earn a spot in the NAIA national playoffs for the first time since 2001. They're favored today and will be heavily favored their final two games, so the stakes are quite high.
"We've been so average the last several years it's fun just to be in the mix," said VCSU coach Dennis McCulloch. "Right now we're in a situation where we can't lose any game or we won't be going anywhere, and we're playing Jamestown, so I'm not worried about our guys looking beyond this game."
The Jimmies (2-2, 3-4) are hoping to play spoilers, but they'd also like to get the Paint Bucket back. The Vikings (4-0, 6-1) got it for the first time in five years when they beat the Jimmies 21-10 in Valley City Oct. 1.
A large crowd is expected -- both schools always draw well -- but with the increased importance of the game, it should be a great atmosphere.
"This is what small-college athletics is all about," JC coach Bud Etzold. "It's a rivalry with a lot of tradition and obviously the stakes are pretty high, so I'm sure everybody is going to be pretty tuned up."
A win would also give the Vikings the outright Dakota Athletic Conference title -- the final one. They're also the lone hope from the DAC. With just four teams, the league is two short of getting an automatic bid, and none of the other three teams have a shot.
Etzold isn't surprised by the Vikings' success. In fact, he dates their rise back to their second-half rally last season when they nearly rallied to win at Rollie Greeno Field after trailing 19-3 at halftime.
"Those are the things that can lead you into the next year," Etzold said. "(I) saw this team coming a year ago and you have to give Dennis and his staff a lot of credit. They have those kids playing really well."
Quarterback Tyler Notch will make his first start today for the Jimmies in place of Brad Lint, who is out for the season with a broken collarbone.
Etzold said Notch, a senior, knows the offense, can make all the throws, has the confidence of his teammates and is calm. He's not a "sprinter," but has adequate mobility.
The competition between Notch and Lint in fall camp was competitive, but Lint won out.
"There were days where it looked like Tyler might be the guy, but Brad ended up winning the job, but Tyler still came to practice every day, worked hard and now he's getting an opportunity," Etzold said.
Notch is up against it today against the Vikings, who have a strong defensive front led by Jordan Maher, who is having a huge senior season. The senior from Bowman, N.D., has 10.5 sacks and is second on the team in tackles (50).
"He's a load," Etzold said of Maher.
The Vikings have not played a bunch of cupcakes -- most notably opening the season against current No. 6 Morningside (5-1) -- but McCulloch credited Eztold and the Jimmies for the schedule they've played.
"Would we be sitting where we are if we played that schedule? I don't know. They've played some very good teams," McCulloch said. "They haven't gotten many bounces to go their way, but we know what kind of team they are and I expect another really competitive game that goes right down to the end."
1-2 punch in tact
Running back Matt Mithaugen will be back today after missing last week's game with a concussion. The Fergus Falls, Minn., native and Lance Johansen are one of the top tandems in the NAIA. Johansen is averaging a whopping 7.7 yards per carry and is coming off a 12-carry, 184-yard performance against Mayville State.
Both defenses rank in the top 25 in the NAIA in points allowed.
The Vikings give up just 20.7, while the Jimmies less than 22.
"They're one of the best defenses we've seen," McCulloch said.
Etzold had simiar sentiments.
"When you're 6-1, that pretty much says it all," the JC coach said. "They do a lot of things really well."
Sun sports editor Dave Selvig can be reached at (701) 952-8460 or by e-mail at email@example.com