ORANGE CITY (Courtesy Dakota News Now) - The Red Raiders of Northwestern finished off their regular season Monday night with a 49-0 win over Jamestown. At 8-1 and in second place in the GPAC, they are now on the postseason bubble. And they're going to be on that bubble for quite a while since the NAIA playoffs won't begin for five months.
For Northwestern's senior class the postseason has become an expectation.
"They've been great tone setters for us and really, since their freshman years, they're guys that we've counted on and leaned on heavily. They've been to the playoffs three times and they've been disappointed with how those three years have ended. And there's big things ahead for them," said head coach Matt McCarty.
Even amid a pandemic that often threatened whether they'd play at all.
"Got to make it worth it. That's the reason we're out here. Obviously yeah, we're blessed to play, happy to be out here, but we're out here for a reason," said senior Shane Solberg.
For the fourth consecutive year the Red Raiders finished the regular season with just one loss.
Every other year that would have them preparing for a playoff game next week. This year, they'll have to wait 21 weeks.
"Figure it out when we get there. I think if you ask any of the coaches around the league they'll probably say the same thing, they don't know what's going on either," said Solberg.
The Great Plains Athletic Conference was one of three NAIA playoff eligible conferences to play exclusively in the fall. The other five will play in the spring with the 16-team postseason beginning on April 17th.
With the GPAC's automatic bid going to conference champion Morningside, the Red Raiders wait and hope their body of work earns them one of five at-large playoff bids. That means staying ready to put on the pads again nearly five months after their final game.
"We really won't know. We won't know till mid-April. So we'll take that few months off, we'll really it hit it hard in the offseason and in the weight room, and then hopefully get ourselves ready to play again. I love the leadership of our upperclassmen. They've done a really good job of just focusing on what needs to be done day-by-day," said McCarty.
It'll be a long wait, but one they expect will be worthwhile.