So you’re saying there’s a chance.
That message likely prevails among Iowa Western players and coaches as they prepare for their regular season finale today at 1 p.m. at unranked Highland.
Behind a six-game winning streak, Iowa Western (7-3) is now up to No. 5 in the NJCAA rankings. And given the teams ahead of them in the rankings and their opponents this weekend, there’s a slim chance that the Reivers could make their way into the national championship game conversation.
Top-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast (10-0) will face No. 4 Northwest Mississippi (8-2). Second-ranked Lackawanna (9-0) faces No. 9 Georgia Military (8-2), and third-ranked Garden City (8-2) will play No. 11 Butler (8-3).
If the Reivers prevail this weekend and the right teams ahead of them lose, it’s possible that they could work their way all the way back into the national championship picture.
“If you look at a couple teams that get beat, we might be in it,” Iowa Western coach Scott Strohmeier said. “That’s really what I addressed to them. But we’ve got to take care of Highland. If we take care of Highland, wherever the chips may fall, they’ll fall, but you put yourself in the position.”
It’s yet another reminder of how far the Reivers have come since starting the season 1-3.
“As coach, you stress that there’s a lot to play for,” Strohmeier said. “You don’t know what can happen. And now for it to come around and we’re in the top five, and the only three-loss team in the top five ahead of a team that beat us (No. 6 Hutchinson). Hopefully that shows motivation for the kids to play. You don’t know the outcome even though you think you know it.”
It’s been a rewarding road back to prominence this fall for Iowa Western. But the Reivers first need to get past a very capable Highland squad. And they’ll need to do it behind a quarterback making his first collegiate start. Sophomore Braydon Aker, a 6-foot-1 signal caller out of Baxter, gets the call Saturday. He’s played some for the Reivers’ junior varsity squad, but Highland will mark his first action on the varsity roster with Cam Thomas a little banged up and backup Shelton Applewhite also dealing with injury.
“I thought through two practices that Braydon threw the ball well,” Strohmeier said. “Guys are catching it and are excited. There’s a little different vibe.”
Aker will have a full complement of running backs helping him. ZaQuandre White and Brian Snead are expected back from injury, and Chandler Cotton and Sheldon Cage will also be in the mix.
Strohmeier expects his defense, which is allowing 15 points per game to opponents, to be tested again Saturday. Highland has a more than capable passing game that keeps defenses honest. They average 237 yards through the air and 19.3 points per game.
“I thought they’ve done a good job throwing the football over the year, and we’re playing as good as anybody on defense,” Strohmeier said. “It will be a good matchup.”