By Anvil Welch
Globe Sports Writer
The Northeastern Oklahoma A&M football team apparently has returned to earth and is ready to play a game.
Just kidding, of course, but the Southwest Junior College Football Conference playoffs open today with the Golden Norsemen coming off a gigantic victory.
But don’t fret, NEO coach Dale Patterson said on Friday.
“They’ve come back to earth,” Patterson said of his players. “They’ve been good at focusing on what’s ahead. Practices have been good this week.”
Fourth-seeded Tyler (5-4) visits No. 1 NEO (8-1) with kickoff scheduled for 2 p.m. at Robertson Field in Miami.
The other semifinal has third-seeded, defending champion Navarro (7-2) visiting No. 2 Kilgore (8-1). Kickoff is set for 3 p.m.
The championship game will be held on Nov. 10 at the home of the higher remaining seed.
NEO, which is ranked fourth by the NJCAA, is in the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
“This will be a tough game,” Patterson said. “It’s a new season for both teams.”
Those sentences obviously read like cliches. But probably no one in the NEO camp believes otherwise.
“No doubt, Tyler has a very good offensive team,” Patterson said. “It’s obvious they can put points on the board.”
The Apaches, of course, handed NEO its only league loss in six games with a 65-59 win in double overtime five weeks ago on Earl Campbell Field at Mother Trinity Frances Rose Stadium.
“Their quarterback, sophomore Tyrik Rollison, has a cannon for an arm,” Patterson said. “He’s big and strong (6-foot-1, 203 pounds) and can run the ball as well as throw it. They also have good receivers and good running backs.”
Rollison has completed 179 of 299 passes for 2,779 yards and 22 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He also has rushed for seven TDs.
Leading receivers are veterans Jeremy Chappelle (51 receptions, 691 yards, eight scores), Marquise Smith (43-771-4) and JaVante Mack (45-692-4).
Tailback Ryan Young, another sophomore, has rushed for 690 yards and six touchdowns.
NEO answers offensively with veteran quarterback Clayton Mitchem (128 of 199 for 1,841 yards and 22 TDs with four interceptions. He’s rushed for 450 yards and nine scores.
Veterans Kameron Doolittle (38 receptions, 510 yards, 6 TDs), Garrett Powell (29-384-4) and Michael Thompson (28-595-7) have been Mitchem’s leading targets.
Veteran Gerald Howse and freshman Casey Curtis are leading rushers for the Norse. Howse has 695 yards and 10 TDs and Curtis 417 yards. Curtis also returns punts.
“The whole key to this game will be whether or not we can take away their running game and, No. 2, can we run the ball,” Patterson told Monty Franks in the Miami News-Record. “They hurt us with a lot of passing yards in that first game. But they also had a lot of running yards.”