After ten weeks of football in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference, the league is down to the final two teams who will square off in the MCAC State Championship Football game at St. Cloud State University on Sunday, November 12th at 1:30pm.
Picturesque Husky Stadium will be the setting for the Northland CTC Pioneers (8-2 Overall 3-2 West) and the Mesabi Range College Norsemen (7-3 Overall 4-1 East) to compete for the MCAC State title and the NJCAA Region XIII Football hardware. For information on Husky Stadium and St. Cloud State University, visit: https://www.stcloudstate.edu/campusrec/facilities/husky-stadium.aspx
The 1:30pm kickoff on Sunday will mark the end of the 50th year of football in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference (formerly the MCCC) and offer fans the chance to see to a pair of upset-minded programs take the field. Both NCTC and Mesabi Range had to win semi-final contests on the road as lower seeds - NCTC the #2 West and MRC the #4 East - and contend with snow and wintery conditions in doing so. However, resiliency paid off for both teams, as Northland CTC dispatched 2016 champion and Red Grange Bowl participant Central Lakes College and Mesabi Range found a way to win over a Dakota College -Bottineau squad that hadn't lost since a Week Two setback to Rochester CTC. Both Central Lakes and Dakota College were receiving votes in the NJCAA Top 20 Football poll, but on Sunday, both teams will be watching from the stands as Mesabi Range and Northland meet in the MCAC / Region XIII Championship.
Northland CTC has re-written the statistical record-book with a pass-first offense led by Shannon Patrick (West Palm Beach, FL), a signal caller that current ranks at or near the top of every passing category in the NJCAA, including Yards-per-Game (354.7 per game/ 2nd nationally), passing touchdowns (33 / 1st), completions (294 / 1st) and attempts (488 /1st). Patrick also lands in the top 15 in the nation in quarterback efficiently with a 139.1 rating good for 13th, behind only Malik Gaillard (NDSCS / 11th) and just ahead of Peyton Kendrick (MnWest / 15th) in comparison to other MCAC signal callers. In terms of total passing yards, the top ranked Shannon Patrick has thrown for almost 3,550 yards and is 336 yards ahead of the second ranked quarterback in that statistical category (Dan Ellington of Itawamba).
However, the Pioneers have other weapons in their arsenal, found on offense, defense and special teams. Two Northland receivers are in the NJCAA Top 5 in Receiving Yards, Malik Williams (1016 yards) and Dakari Highsmith (744 yards). Williams is second in the country in receiving touchdowns with 11 while place-kicker Dontae Ensley (Cedar Springs, MI) is tied for 20th among NJCAA kickers with 49 total points and has connected successfully on 41 of his 49 kicks (PAT and field goals combined) in 2017.
Defensively, Kendall Sylvester, Justin Scott and David Bordes all help lead the Pioneers in various categories. Sylvester has four sacks, two interceptions and 73 total tackles this fall, while Scott has collected 72 total tackles and a pair of sacks. Bordes clocks in having averaged 7.0 tackles per game (70 stops total) and also has two sacks. As a team, Northland has held their last three opponents to 21 points or less and will look to maintain that trend to lift the title trophy.
Mesabi Range College seems to be the Cinderella story of the MCAC football ranks in 2017, as the Norsemen have had to win two road playoff games to get to the Championship. MRC found ways to come out on top of both low-scoring defense slogs - 14-7 at CLC on Sept. 30 - and high-scoring shootouts, as with their 48-43 semi-final win over Dakota College in Bottineau over the course of the fall. As a team, the Norsemen seem to resemble the Miami Dolphins 'No Name Defense' of the early 1970's; MRC doesn't boast eye-popping statistical individuals but yet collectively have played their way to the championship. Mesabi Range football history shows them last appearing in the State Championship game in 2008, where they defeated Vermilion, 6-0.
(photo by Andrew Link)
For Mesabi Range, Tenaj Robinson-Bowens has collected seven offensive touchdowns on the year and Justin Hooks leads the Conference in sacks with 14.5 so far in 2017. Terrance Wenzel has been the go-to receiver for Mesabi Range this season, with 41 catches for 733 yards, good for a 75.2 average. Placekicker Connor Cusick has hit 6 of 9 field goal attempts, with a long of 37 yards, and has been successful on 89% of his PAT's (20-of-23). Quarterback Deabrie Smith has accounted for 11 touchdowns this year and only thrown six interceptions.
(photo by Andrew Link)
On the sidelines, first-year Mesabi Range coach Tom Inforzato has put together a banner inaugural run leading the Norsemen. Read more about Coach Inforzato in this feature article by Jim Romsaas, of the Mesabi Daily News. Across the field, second year head coach Jim Cox has been orchestrating his Pioneer offense into one of the NJCAA juggernauts of 2017, and fans of the passing game will enjoy watching NCTC throw the ball. Learn more about Coach Cox in this Grand Forks Herald article by Tom Miller.
(photo, Mesabi Daily News)
Sunday's championship game will mark the 50th season of football in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference. The game will be live-streamed through School Space Media (http://www.schoolspacemedia.com/) and weather forecasts currently call for sunny conditions and a chilly 34 degree high temperature. Ticket sales will be available at the game and SCSU concessions will be open for business. For full MCAC stats, standings and more, please visit www.mcacsports.org
Fans of NJCAA football will also start to look around the corner at December bowl invitations as the season winds down across the country. In 2016, the Minnesota College Athletic Conference had two representatives accept bowl invitations; Central Lakes College traveled to the first edition of the Red Grange Bowl hosted by fellow non-scholarship program College of DuPage, while Rochester CTC participated in the Graphic Edge Bowl, held in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The Red Grange Bowl features a philanthropic connection to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana and the Graphic Edge Bowl is presented by Hudl.
The Minnesota College Athletic Conference website main page is: http://www.mcacsports.org/landing/index
This release sponsored in part by Gopher Sport.
Gopher Sport, based in Owatonna, is an industry leader in Physical Education, sports and fitness equipment. Gopher Sport is dedicated to providing programs and departments with the products to improve fitness, develop skills, create fun and reach a high standard of learning and living. Gopher Sport has diligently served teachers, coaches and athletic directors around the world for over 65 years.
About the Minnesota College Athletic Conference
The Minnesota College Athletic Conference is the organizational body for NJCAA-affiliated two-year technical and community college athletic programs in the Minnesota State system. The mission of the Minnesota College Athletic Conference is to advance intercollegiate athletics by providing an engaging and supportive environment for success of our student athletes and competition among member institutions. The MCAC is committed to the guiding principles of encouraging the development and success of student athletes, promoting the integrity, honesty and loyalty to member schools as well as upholding the sustainability of conference athletic programs.