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Two familiar foes meet for NAIA football title
ROME, GA. (AP) - My, this looks familiar.
Top-ranked Sioux Falls and No. 2 Carroll College have combined to win the last eight NAIA football championships, and one of them will be lifting the trophy again Saturday when they meet in the title game.
Not surprisingly, there’s plenty of reverence on both sides.
“They’re a team (very) similar to us,” said Sioux Falls receiver Jon Ryan, recalling the teams meeting for the title in 2007 and ‘08. “They’ve got a lot of class.”
Sioux Falls’ first-year coach, Jed Stugart, said the history of the rivalry is what makes it special.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for their program,” he said. “Our kids have always said that and they believe that and that’s what’s going to make for a great football game.”
Sioux Falls, from South Dakota, has captured the last two championships and comes in with a 42-game winning streak. The Cougars (13-0) also won the title in 2006.
Carroll College (13-0), located in Helena, Mont., won four straight titles from 2002-05, and returned to the top in 2007 with a 17-9 victory over Sioux Falls. The Cougars haven’t lost since.
“You see a lot of the same things offensively and defensively, some of their sets,” Van Diest said. “But it’s the players, it’s the same players. … When you have that winning attitude, it carries over from year to year.”
This year’s game has been dubbed “Rematch on the Rivers: The Final Chapter,” because Sioux Falls is leaving NAIA to join NCAA Division II next season. The Cougars can depart with the longest winning streak in NAIA history; they are currently tied with Texas A&I (now known as Texas A&M-Kingsville).
“We just enjoyed competing against a program like Sioux Falls,” Van Diest said. “It’s a great honor.”
Stugart has talked to plenty of people about what it will be like to coach in the title game for the first time.
“I make a point of emphasis to not change much throughout the season and be consistent,” he said. “I have relied heavily on our coaching staff and our players who have been through the success before at Sioux Falls. I am excited because this is my first national championship.”
Linebacker Dom Studzinski leads a Sioux Falls defense that has allowed a nation-leading 200.4 yards per game and just 13 touchdowns. The Cougars have posted three shutouts and held nine teams under 10 points.
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