MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — For a regular-season NJCAA game, the stakes couldn’t get much higher.
No. 2 Iowa Western faces No. 5 Georgia Military at noon CDT Saturday in what may be an elimination game in the national championship picture.
Recent NJCAA history hasn’t been kind to teams once they experience defeat.
Since the Reivers started football in 2009, only once has a team with a loss landed a spot in the national title game over an unbeaten team. In 2010, one-loss Navarro (Texas) beat previously undefeated Butler (Kan.) for the title while Nassau (N.Y.) finished as the lone unbeaten.
In each of the past three seasons, only undefeated teams have made the championship game.
Currently, the top nine teams in this week’s poll are unbeaten. And each of them will play, yet this year, at least one game against another unbeaten team within that top nine.
For Iowa Western, this is the only remaining matchup with a ranked team. A loss at this point would make it difficult to crawl back into title contention with no marquee games.
“Obviously, there’s no playoffs,” Iowa Western coach Scott Strohmeier said. “I wouldn’t say it’s make or break, but it could affect some things. (Coming back from a loss) at the midway point of the season is a lot more challenging than if it’s at the beginning of the season.”
The Reivers (5-0) carry a national-best 18-game winning streak into Saturday. They haven’t lost since falling at Grand Rapids in the Midwest Football Conference championship game in November 2011, which was the last time they faced a top-five team on the road.
Iowa Western is coming off three consecutive shutouts. The Reivers haven’t given up a point in 13 quarters and haven’t allowed a touchdown in 14 periods. But the teams they’ve faced during that streak haven’t had the offensive firepower of the Bulldogs (5-0).
Georgia Military, which owns wins over preseason No. 2 Snow (Utah) and then-No. 10 ASA (N.Y.), has the nation’s leading rusher and scorer in former Auburn recruit Jovon Robinson. He’s averaging 181.4 yards per game and has 12 rushing touchdowns.
Robinson ran for 333 yards in the win against Snow and had four touchdowns against Arkansas Baptist.
Iowa Western defensive coordinator Mike Blackbourn said his team will have its hands full.
“It all starts with stopping the running back. We’ve got to shut him down,” he said. “He can flat-out run. He’ll make you miss. He’ll run you over. The big thing for us is we’ve got to get many, many hats to the football. ... It’s all about limiting the big play in this game.”
Blackbourn’s unit has given up two touchdowns through five games this season, and it hasn’t been pushed since the opener at Trinity Valley (Texas). Still, he said, he saw enough in that 24-17 road victory to ease any concerns about facing the Bulldogs.
“The thing that I’m glad to see is that we’ve been tested already,” he said. “In the very first game of the year, we had to play almost 100 plays. And that game wasn’t over until the very last play of the game. We’ve been in an environment like that on the road and had to play four quarters. They’ll be ready to respond.”
Strohmeier said the Reivers have taken a week-to-week approach thus far, but he knows his staff and players have been looking forward to this game. That said, he doesn’t want Iowa Western’s entire season defined by one contest in late September.
“We know the significance of this game,” he said. “It’s not going to make or break the season. But, at the same time, it’s a big game. There are lots of scenarios that can go into it either way.”