After all, either Carroll College or the University of Sioux Falls has been a combatant in the NAIA title tilt for each of the past nine years.
Carroll College won championships from 2002-2005 and again in 2007. Sioux Falls won championships in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
During a press conference on Thursday at Darlington, Carroll head coach Mike Van Diest recalled the 2008 title game in Rome.
“We just enjoyed competing against a program like Sioux Falls. I remember these young guys, over here to my right, (USF players Jon Ryan and Dominic Studzinski) they were very integral parts of that program. It’s hard to believe they’re still around,” said Van Diest. “It’s a great honor.”
USF first year coach Jed Stugart said the history of this rivalry is special.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for their program. Our kids have always said that and they believe that and that’s what’s going to make for a great football game,” Stugart said.
Van Diest said he felt Stugart had carried over many of the USF traditions.
“You see a lot of the same things offensively and defensively, some of their sets, but it’s the players, it’s the same players…when you have that winning attitude it carries over from year to year,” said Van Diest.
This year’s game has been dubbed “Rematch on the Rivers: The Final Chapter,” in part, because USF will be leaving the NAIA for the NCAA next year. Stugart said he had talked to a lot of people, including former coaches about the lead up to the game. “All these players know it’s another game, it’s a big game, it’s for the title of National Champion, but you’ve got to keep the same routine,” Stugart said.
Carroll linebacker Thomas Dolan said that just over the last four years he has battled Sioux Falls for the championship. “It’s always a good game and we’re really excited to get out there on the field,” Dolan said.
Carroll quarterback Gary Wagner said anytime you play a national championship you want to come out on top. “We’ve had a couple of good weeks of practice, you know you get that bye week,” Wagner said. “People are dialed in, we had a really good practice today on a really nice practice field.”
USF wide receiver Jon Ryan made it clear that he wanted to play Carroll for the championship. “I look back at those 2007 and 2008 championship games, they’re a team a lot similar to us, they’ve got a lot of class,” Ryan said.
Sioux Falls linebacker Dominic Studzinski is looking forward to matching up with Carroll’s solid ground game. “As a linebacker you want to hit somebody and there’s nothing better than having two running backs back there that want to come hit you, too. As a senior I can‘t see anything else better than going out this way,” Studzinski said.
Van Diest said that northwest Georgia football fans might be surprised to see the talent level on the two teams.
“These guys can flat play football. When you watch how they play on Saturday, you watch the Cougars, how they play on film, you watch our guys, there’s a reason they’re here,” Van Diest said.
When you play for the University of Sioux Falls, or Carroll College, it seems that reason is to play for championships as the schools have done for the past nine years.
Kickoff is set for just after 4:30 Saturday afternoon at Barron Stadium.