Sioux prepare for a big day
GRAND FORKS -- In seven of their last eight games, no more than three points have separated the University of North Dakota from Nebraska-Omaha, the unquestioned Sioux football rival since North Dakota State left the neighborhood for Division I fo...
GRAND FORKS -- In seven of their last eight games, no more than three points have separated the University of North Dakota from Nebraska-Omaha, the unquestioned Sioux football rival since North Dakota State left the neighborhood for Division I football four years ago.
Today's UND-Nebraska-Omaha game, which could draw as many as 13,000 fans to the Alerus Center, is expected to be close again based on the similar routes the teams have taken en route to the monster matchup.
There is certainly plenty at stake between the unbeaten NCAA Division II powers.
The winner between No. 2 UND and No. 6 Nebraska-Omaha will own:
E The inside track to the final North Central Conference championship.
E A firm grip on the top spot in the all-important Division II Northwest Region rankings, which determine playoff entrants.
E Possible unending bragging rights since the teams may never play again.
It is the biggest game of the year for both UND and Omaha. But it is not a make-or-break game, considering a month remains in the regular season.
Despite the outcome, both teams likely will find themselves back in the Division II playoffs next month. And both coaches say their opponent has a good chance of making a run deep into the postseason.
"Omaha is a serious candidate for a national championship," UND coach Dale Lennon said. "Their win against Northwest Missouri earlier this year was an indication of what they're capable of doing."
Coach Pat Behrns, whose Mavericks have beaten UND twice in the Alerus Center, said the Sioux will be tough to beat at home.
"You almost have to be perfect against them, and that's so hard to do," Behrns said. "You just try and put a good game plan together and get the kids excited about it. That's what it boils down to."
On paper, the game is a tossup. Both have prolific offenses, with UND averaging a Division II-best 548.7 yards per game, compared to Omaha's 471.8 yards. Their defenses rank near the top of the NCC (Omaha is No. 1 in scoring defense, while UND is No. 2). And both know what it's like to win the big, late-season game.
The difference could come down to home-field advantage.
It's possible today's attendance may push 13,000 since this is one of the biggest sports weekends in Grand Forks in recent years.
Following the 1 p.m. game, No. 1 UND and No. 3 Michigan State - the defending national champion - meet in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
UND's attendance record for football is listed at 13,500, the figure announced for the 2001 Sioux-Bison game.
"It'll be nice to be at home," Sioux running back Ryan Chappell said. "Our fans give us so much momentum."
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