Area college football fans take pride in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association as a power conference in NCAA Division II. After all, the MIAA has produced two of the previous four national champions. In the last 22 years, a MIAA team has been in the final game 12 times.
But over the past two seasons, the Northern Sun Conference has flexed its muscle. And now that the conferences are part of the same Division II playoff region, a head-to-head comparison can be made.
It favors the Northern Sun.
“Arguably, you could say they’re better than us,” Northwest Missouri coach Adam Dorrel said.
The Northern Sun leads 3-2 against the MIAA in regional football matchups in the past two years.
The Bearcats, 12-0, can even the score on Saturday when they play host to the regional title game against St. Cloud State (Minn.), 12-1. Kickoff at Bearcat Stadium is noon.
“Our program is very respectful of that league, we know what they’re about,” Dorrel said. “They’re tough kids and the teams play hard-nosed, physical football.”
That’s what Northwest saw last week in its playoff triumph over Minnesota-Duluth. The game was a struggle in the first half with the Bearcats scoring a late second-quarter touchdown for a 10-0 halftime lead on their way to a 45-21 triumph.
Northwest took the second-half kickoff and drove 70 yards for the score, an 18-yard completion from Trevor Adams to Reuben Thomas. The Bearcats got touchdowns on their next two possessions to end any drama.
St. Cloud State pulled off the biggest upset of the playoffs last week when it defeated Minnesota State-Mankato 54-48. Mankato was ranked first nationally and second in the region to Northwest. Saturday marks the third straight road playoff game for the Huskies, who opened the postseason two weeks ago with a victory at Henderson State (Ark.).
Both St. Cloud victories have come against undefeated teams.
“They’ve scored 90-plus points in two playoff games on the road,” Dorrel said. “They have our respect.”
The day is expected to be bone-chilling cold, not unusual conditions to teams from 16-team Northern Sun. Nine are from Minnesota.
“We need to embrace the cold,” Dorrel said. “Because you know it’s not going to bother them.”