It’s not the national championship game.
That took place on Thursday in Pittsburg, Kansas, where top-rated East Mississippi won its fifth NJCAA title — all in the past eight seasons — with a 10-9 victory over second-rated Garden City.
But for third-rated Iowa Western (9-1), individual and team pride will be on the line Sunday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, when it will meet No. 9 Snow (8-2) at 3 p.m. in the Graphic Edge Bowl.
And Reivers coach Scott Strohmeier said that should be more than enough motivation.
“It’s not national championship or bust, but the excitement early on isn’t the same as it was for the national championship,’’ he said. “But I thought our guys did a good job preparing this week. You want to be on top when you leave, heading into the offseason.’’
For a second straight year, the Reivers were ranked third in the final regular-season poll after losing just once. This year, Garden City recovered a Reiver fumble on its own 3-yard line and also returned an interception 94 yards for a score in a 16-13 win over Iowa Western. That ultimately kept the Reivers out of the championship game, which was nationally televised for the first time.
Strohmeier said there’s plenty at stake in Sunday’s game, including on an individual basis. Many players come to Council Bluffs because they believe they can play at a higher level than recruiters’ evaluations of them out of high school indicate.
“Right now, we’ve got one game, one opportunity,’’ Strohmeier said. “There’s guys who feel they’re not getting recruited to the level they are. There’s some that are not getting recruited as much as they would like. Well, you’ve got 60 minutes against a really good team with a lot of coaches watching.’’
The Badgers, of Ephraim, Utah, were the runners-up in the Western States Football League and are hoping to improve upon their 17-5 bowl record.In 2010, Iowa Western made its first bowl appearance in its second season of existence, losing to Snow 48-36 in the Top of the Mountains Bowl.
This year, although the Reivers believe they have played the more difficult schedule, the Badgers have been an offensive juggernaut. They lead the NJCAA in scoring average (53.3) and rank second in total yards per game (502.2).
Sophomore tailback Jaylen Warren leads the nation in rushing yards per game (161.8), going for 1,294 yards and 14 touchdowns in eight contests while averaging 9.5 yards per carry. Braxton Kerr has thrown for 2,131 yards and 25 touchdowns with 11 interceptions, while Derek Wright has 738 receiving yards and nine scores.“They’re your typical Snow,’’ Strohmeier said. “They’re massive. They’re pretty balanced. They do a lot of stuff.’’
Offensively, Iowa Western has used two quarterbacks extensively. T.J. Starks has shouldered the majority of the load, throwing for 1,571 yards and 16 scores with nine interceptions. Backup Clay Beathard has thrown for 806 yards and six scores, but he will be available for emergency duty only after breaking his thumb recently.
The defensive side has been Iowa Western’s strength this year. The Reivers rank fifth nationally in scoring defense (14.7), tied for 10th in rushing defense (100.6 yards per game) and tied for fifth in sacks (41).Strohmeier said his staff has brought Snow’s gaudy offensive numbers to the defense’s attention.
“That brings excitement to them,’’ he said.
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July 1: Air Force's Nic Ready hit a total of 55 home runs, including 21 in the final round, to edge Clemson's Logan Davidson in the College Home Run Derby.
June 28: Oregon State celebrates beating Arkansas 5-0 in Game 3 of the CWS championship series. The Beavers were down to their last out in Game 2 before a fielding blunder by the Razorbacks gave Oregon State a second life, which it took advantage of en route to the program's third CWS title.
June 18: John Olson, and Mary Olson, of Joslyn, Missouri, take cover under ponchos during a rain delay at the College World Series. Weather provided a huge problem in the 2018 CWS.
June 15: Cam'ron Jones checks out Omaha.com, or perhaps Snapchat, during the Huskers' Friday Night Lights camp.
May 19: Fremont's Lucas Arps celebrates after winning the Class A 400-meter dash.
May 19: Lincoln Lutheran's Josie Puelz celebrates after clearing 12-2 in the Class C girls pole vault final.
May 17: Omaha Roncalli's Thomas Alitz cheers after scoring the winning run in the Class B state championship on a hit by Logan McGill with two outs in the seventh inning.
May 17: Omaha Creighton Prep's Eric Allbery, right, jumps on the dogpile as the Junior Jays celebrate their Class A state baseball title.
May 16: South Sioux City celebrates after defeating Elkhorn South in the Class B state soccer championship.
May 16: Kearney's Christian Dakan hoists the Class A state soccer trophy alongside his teammates.
May 14: Millard North celebrates its Class A state championship win against Omaha Marian by kissing the trophy.
May 14: Elkhorn celebrates its Class B championship win against Omaha Skutt.
May 9: Creighton's Will Robertson celebrates with Jack Strunc, left, after homering the fifth inning. The Jays beat UNO 10-6.
May 6: The Omaha Storm Chasers play below the newly dedicated Steve Pivovar Press Box at Werner Park.
April 21: Nebraska coach Scott Frost leads the Huskers during the Tunnel Walk on Saturday.
April 19: Awardee Dante Pettis and former Nebraska football player Johnny Rodgers, right, pictured during the Jet Award dinner.
April 19: Former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne attends the Jet Award dinner.
April 18: UNO's Malik Moore pitches against Nebraska. The Mavericks knocked off the Huskers for the first time since 1997.
April 11: Creighton's Will Robertson, left, and Thomas Luevano celebrate scoring on a triple by Jack Strunc.
April 11: Elkhorn South's Mo Gohr gains control of the ball in the Metro Conference tournament.
April 3: Scott Frost directs Husker football practice.
March 31: The boy campers pose for a photo at the Athletes' Training Center Futures Camp at Iowa West Field House.
March 27: Creighton defeats Nebraska 3-1 in the first matchup of the year.
March 25: Kansas' Malik Newman drives to the basket, drawing a blocking foul on Duke's Wendell Carter. The Jayhawks went on to defeat the Blue Devils in Omaha and advance to the Final Four.
March 17: Creighton defeats Iowa in the NCAA women's basketball tournament.
March 17: Creighton's bench cheers as Michael Emodi hits a walk-off homer off Wichita State pitcher Chandler Sanburn in the Jays' home opener.
March 12: The Creighton women's basketball team celebrates making the NCAA tournament.
March 10: Wahoo celebrates winning the Class C-1 boys basketball title.
March 10: Nebraska City Lourdes' Quinten Vasa, center, holds up the trophy with his team.
March 9: Glenwood celebrates after winning its first boys basktball state title in school history.
March 3: Scotus' Maggie Feehan celebrates after winning the Class C-1 title.
March 3: Superior celebrates a Class C-2 championship win over Ravenna.
Feb. 25: Nebraska's Duby Okeke enters Pinnacle Bank Arena with his family at his side on senior night. The Huskers went on to defeat Penn State.
Nebraska's Duby Okeke enters Pinnacle Bank Arena with his family at his side on senior night.
Feb. 24: Creighton's Marcus Foster, left, and Davion Mintz celebrate Creighton's 89-83 overtime victory over Villanova.
Feb. 24: Omaha Creighton Prep's Colin LaFave competes in the 100 fly at the state swimming meet.
Feb. 24: Lincoln Southwest's Anna Heinrich, left, and Josie Ford celebrate their first and second-place finishes in the 50 free at the state swimming meet.
Feb. 17: Kearney’s Phillip Moomey is in the top 20 of his weight class in two national polls. Only a handful of underclassmen are ranked ahead of him.
Feb. 17: Omaha Burke's Jakason Burks does a backflip after defeating Millard South's Caleb Coyle during the 106-pound Class A final at the state wrestling championships.
Jan. 28: Omaha Lancers coach and General Manager David Wilkie talks with players during first-period action.
Jan. 26: UNO's Luke Nogard skates past the referee.
Jan. 16: Nebraska's Nicea Eliely gets excited during pregame introductions as the Huskers went on to beat Iowa.
Nebraska's James Palmer celebrates a home victory over Illinois with Isaiah Roby.
Jan. 9: Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, left, talks with former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne during the Outland Trophy banquet.
Jan. 4: Omaha Burke's Shereef Mitchell brings the ball up court in the Metro holiday tournament.
Jan. 1: In his final game with Central Florida, now-Nebraska coach Scott Frost raises the Peach Bowl title after defeating Auburn.