The postseason begins Saturday in Division II and NAIA football.
Pittsburg State plays host to Harding (Ark.) and Northwest Missouri State travels to Minnesota-Duluth, representing the MIAA in the Division II playoffs. Both games kick off at 1 p.m.
The winners will move one step closer to the NCAA Division II championship game Dec. 20 at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.
Gorillas quarterback Anthony Abenoja was chosen this week as a semifinalist for the Harlon Hill Award, presented to the nation’s top Division II player. But defense is what the opponents have in common.
Harding ranks third nationally in average points allowed at 12.3 and Pitt State is third at 12.5.
Northwest became the first defending national champion to reach the playoffs in four years and made the NCAA field for the 11th straight year.
The Bearcats and Minnesota-Duluth will be meeting in the postseason for the third time in five years. They split the first two meetings, with Northwest winning 45-21 last year in Maryville, Mo., in the quarterfinals.
Two teams, MidAmerica Nazarene and Missouri Valley, from the Heart of America Conference, plus Ottawa from the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, open play Saturday in the NAIA playoffs.
MidAmerica, which travels to Southern Oregon, has the NAIA’s fourth-most stingy defense, surrendering 15.6 points, and have allowed only seven touchdown passes this season. If it comes down to a kicking battle, the Pioneers have an edge with Christian Casillas, who leads the NAIA with 18 field goals this season.
Missouri Valley takes a five-game winning streak into its home game against Northwestern (Iowa), the team it defeated in the first round last year.
Ottawa, making it seventh straight playoff appearance, travels to Morningside (Iowa). Braves running back Luke Lundy ranks second in NAIA in rushing with 1,493 yards.
The NAIA championship game is Dec. 19 in Daytona Beach, Fla.