- Associated Press - Friday, December 17, 2010

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.

While Sioux Falls has a new coach, Carroll coach Mike Van Diest said he doesn’t notice much of a difference.

“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.

Studzinski is looking forward to matching up with Carroll’s bruising ground game, led by senior John Camino (1,276 yards, 16 touchdowns) and sophomore Chance Demarais (779 yards, nine TDs). Throw senior quarterback Gary Wagner’s 450 yards and three scores, and the Fighting Saints are running for an average of 237 yards per game.

“As a linebacker, you want to hit somebody,” Studzinski said. “There’s nothing better than having two running backs back there that want to come hit you, too. As a senior, I can’t see anything else better than going out this way.”

The teams have traveled thousands of miles to play for the title in northwest Georgia. They look forward to showing off the quality of NAIA football for fans in the Deep South.

“These guys can flat play football,” Van Diest said. “When you watch how they play on Saturday, you watch the Cougars, how they play on film, you watch our guys, there’s a reason they’re here.”



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