PITTSBURG, Kansas — No. 1 Mississippi Gulf Coast faces No. 2 Lackawanna here Thursday with the NJCAA Football Championship on the line.
For Bulldogs coach Jack Wright, that doesn't mean it's time for big rah-rah speeches. He's seen Gulf Coast prepare for 11 other opponents this year, and he's confident the squad will be ready come 5 p.m.
"They know the magnitude of the game," he said. "They don't need me to stand in front of them and say, 'Hey, we're playing for a national championship.' We've got great kids. I expect great effort, great preparation."
The game will be televised by CBS Sports Network, and there will be a watch party in Perkinston at A.L. May Memorial Stadium. You can listen to the MGCCC radio broadcast at SuperTalk 103.1-FM and online at https://livestream.com/MGCCCBulldogs/events/8915122.
Gulf Coast (11-0) traveled to Kansas on Monday, making a stop at the University of Central Arkansas on Monday for practice before getting back on the buses for the final four hours of a 15-hour day.
Waiting for them Thursday at Carnie Smith Stadium on the campus of Pittsburg State will be Lackawanna (10-0), which flew via Baltimore and Kansas City on Monday. The Falcons have beaten their last 22 opponents and bring in the nation's top scoring defense (11.2 points per game allowed) and second-ranked scoring offense (45.5 points).
"They're very physical," Wright said. "They're very intentional to what they do. They show different layers to their schemes on both sides of the ball. They kind of have an identity, but they're able to get away from that identity just enough to keep the other team guessing and keep them off balance."
The Lackawanna offense ranks 18th in rushing and 37th in passing, while their seventh-ranked rushing defense and ninth-ranked passing defense present tough tests.
"They're very good at defending the ball, and they're very good at running the ball," Wright said. "But at times, they can get into a different look and make it very difficult to throw on them, and at times they have hit some critical plays in the passing game to complement their very strong running game. They definitely have an identity, which I think most really good teams do. You can tell they are coached very hard and very tough."
Lackawanna leads the country with an eye-popping 28 interceptions, nearly three a game. Add in 16 fumble recoveries, and it's easy to see why taking care of the football will be important.
"They don't make a ton of mistakes, but I think a big word you have to say when you watch these guys is that they're opportunistic. Other teams have given them plays, and when that's happened, they've taken advantage of it. That's a very, very good quality to have as a football team, to take advantage of opportunities when they arise."
WHO: No. 1 MGCCC (11-0) vs. No. 2 Lackawanna (10-0)
WHAT: NJCAA Football Championship
WHEN: Thursday, Dec. 5, 5 p.m.
WHERE: Carnie Smith Stadium, Pittsburg, Kansas
WATCH: CBS Sports Network
LISTEN: SuperTalk 103.1-FM or https://livestream.com/MGCCCBulldogs/events/8915122
Series record: First meeting
Notes: Gulf Coast has a 15-game winning streak, the second-longest in the country … Lackawanna has a 22-game winning streak, the longest … Gulf Coast and Lackawanna have each beaten four teams in the final regular-season NJCAA Rankings … Gulf Coast has been No. 1 since Week 7 of the rankings on Nov. 7 … Lackawanna ascended to No. 2 in the Week 8 rankings on Nov. 14 … Gulf Coast is adding a 12th state to have played an opponent from in Pennsylvania (Others: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas) … Gulf Coast is trying to win its fifth national championship (1948, 1971, 1984, 2007) … Lackawanna is trying to win its first.
For more information on Gulf Coast's 10 intercollegiate athletic teams, follow @MGCCCBulldogs on Twitter and MGCCCBulldogs on Facebook, and go to mgcccbulldogs.com.