For many of the players and coaches of the Bethel College football team, this will be their first "Menno Bowl" experience.
The 1-8 Threshers take on 7-2 Tabor College at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Joel Wiens Stadium in Hillsboro.
Bethel is coming off a 47-10 loss to then 17th-ranked Friends University last week. Tabor was upset by then 1-7 Bethany 24-17, dropping the Bluejays to 14th on the NAIA poll.
"We're fired up and excited," Bethel coach Marty Mathis said. "We're going to have to come out and stop the option. Tabor got knocked off by Bethany last week, so they're going to be fired up to get a win."
While longtime fans, coaches and the older players know the intensity of rivalry games, it will be a new experience for much of the Bethel players.
"We talked about it just yesterday and we plan to talk about it again today," Mathis said. "Some of the young guys are untested in a rivalry game. Some of the guys are going to need to step up and play like fifth-year seniors."
The stakes for the Bluejays may be even higher for this week. Tabor dropped to fourth in the conference with the loss to Bethany. Friends, Ottawa and Sterling are all tied for first at 6-1. The Bluejays would likely need to win out and the other three teams would have to lose at least once to get Tabor back in the lead, and then it would need either the tie-breaker for the automatic NAIA berth or pick up an at-large playoff berth.
There are 16 berths in the NAIA playoffs. The nine conference champions each receive one. The next seven teams are picked in order from the final NAIA top 25, putting the Bluejays on the bubble.
Tabor is led by running back James Monroe, who has 256 carries for 1,308 yards and 10 touchdowns. Monroe is ranked third in the NAIA in rushing yards.
Monroe recently broke the school record for career rushing, set by former NFL All-Pro Bay Lawrence from 1969 to 1972 (3,008). Lawrence played for the Atlanta Falcons from 1973 to 1981. Monroe currently has 3,462 yards
Quarterback Ryan Nelson has hit 49 of 88 passes for 738 yards and five touchdowns. Nelso has given up just three interceptions. Nelson took over behind center when Halstead High grad Simon McKee was injured.
Scott Bauer has 24 catches for 419 yards and three touchdowns. Cordell Simmons has 16 catches for 160 yards and three touchdowns.
On defense, Terach Antoine has 67 total tackles, followed by Anthony Daniel with 53 and Cody Godshall with 43. Antoine has 8.0 sacks, followed by Dylan Delk with 4.0. Anthony and Donnell Davis each have three interceptions.
Mathis said Bethany was able to stack the box to slow Tabor down last week.
"We're going to have to stop the option," Mathis said. "They run a very similar defense to what we do. They have been giving the ball to their fullback for a lot of yards. Bethany just stacked the box against them. We're going to try some things to stop them as well."
For Bethel, Stephen Scott has 223 carries for 1,228 yards and seven touchdowns. Scott is ranked sixth in the NAIA in rushing yards.
Bo Pratt has hit 121 of 276 passes for 1,588 yards and 15 touchdowns with 15 interceptions. Freshman John DeBus and junior David Bronson also have taken snaps this season.
The receiving corps is led by Tommy Alexander with 48 catches for 791 yards and five touchdowns. Raul Silva has 26 catches for 360 yards and four touchdowns. Ruben Hernandez has 22 catches for 220 yards and two touchdowns, but hasn't played since the Southwestern game in week seven.
On defense for the Threshers, Taylor Morris has 68 total tackles, followed by Ariel Villareal with 47 and Terrance Toney with 46. Ja'Terious Pouncy has three interceptions, along with Kipp Credeur, who hasn't played since week five.
"We're going to have to catch the ball better this week," Mathis said. "We had a lot of dropped passes last week, with a number of passes hitting players in the chest. We're going to have to get our running game going better. Last week was one of our worst offensive performances since the Sterling game (in week six). We hope to do better this week."