In a rematch of one of the top junior college football games in 2012, the Tyler Junior College Apaches travel north to meet Northeastern Oklahoma A&M today.
The Southwest Junior College Football Conference semifinal is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Robertson Field in Miami, Okla. The Apaches (5-4) are the No. 4 seed, while NEO (8-1) is the top seed and ranked No. 4 in the national poll.
The two teams met Sept. 27 in Tyler, with the Apaches using a Hail Mary pass to send the game into overtime before winning 65-59 in two OTs.
The other semifinal pits No. 3 Navarro (7-2) at No. 2 Kilgore (8-1). Kickoff is 3 p.m. at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium in Kilgore.
The semifinal winners will face off Nov. 10 for the SWJCFC championship.
“We are ready to get back on the field,” TJC coach Danny Palmer said. “We did not play well against Kilgore (45-24 loss on Saturday). Once we got on the bus leaving Kilgore, our guys were already focused on the playoffs.”
This is the third time in four years the Apaches are in the postseason, advancing to the title game last year before falling to Navarro.
For NEO, the Golden Norsemen are returning to the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
NEO coach Dale Patterson said he hopes his team plays better this time against Tyler.
“We felt like we didn’t play very well in our first meeting, so we’re just looking for a chance to redeem ourselves against Tyler,” Patterson said. “Very rarely do you get a second chance to play a team that has beaten you once during the season.
“Tyler deserved to win because they made the plays at the end and we didn’t,” Patterson said. “This gives us a chance to go out and play against them here at home rather than at their place.”
Tyler sent the game into overtime when quarterback Tyrik Rollison hit JaVante Mack with a 52-yard Hail Mary pass as time expired in regulation. In the second OT, Ryan Young scored on a 25-yard run for the game-winner.
Rollison passed for 503 yards and five TDs. Three receivers had more than 100 yards in catches — Jeremey Chappelle (10-140), Mack (9-134) and Tracy Smith (8-175).
The Apaches have the top offense in the league, averaging 524.6 total yards and 45 points per game.
“Tyler has one of the most prolific offenses in the league,” Patterson said. “They can both run and throw the football, but their passing game is very difficult to contain because they give you so many different looks.”
Rollison, the sophomore from Sulphur Springs, leads the SWJCFC in passing by completing 179 of 299 passes for 2,779 yards and 22 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
Young, also a sophomore from Sulphur Springs, leads the ground game with 690 yards on 135 carries and six touchdowns.
On the season, Chappelle, who is from Jacksonville and attended Bullard Brook Hill School, has 51 receptions for 691 yards and eight TDs.
“The whole key to this game will be whether or not we can take away their running game and, No. 2, can we run the football ourselves,” Patterson said.
“They hurt us with a lot of passing yards in that first game, but they also had a lot of running yards.”
Comprising the Golden Norse offensive backfield are sophomore Clayton Mitchem at quarterback with veteran Gerald Howse and freshman Casey Curtis alternating at tailback.
Mitchem ranks just behind Rollison in league passing, having completed 128 of 199 passes for 1,841 yards and 22 touchdowns with four interceptions. He ranks seventh in rushing with 450 yards on 115 carries and nine TDs.
Howse ranks second in the SWJCFC with 695 yards on 155 carries and 10 touchdowns. He also has four receptions for 40 yards.
In the first game between the two, Tyler held Howse to just 8 yards on 13 carries.
Leading the Golden Norse receiving corps are sophomores Kameron Doolittle, Garrett Powell and Michael Thompson.
Doolittle ranks fifth in the league with 38 receptions for 510 yards and six touchdowns. He has also rushed for 100 yards on 14 carries with one TD.
Thompson had two kickoff returns for TDs in the first game.
Defensively, neither team is near the top. In fact, the Apaches rank sixth and the Norsemen seventh in overall defense.
While Tyler is allowing an average of 392.4 total yards and 28 points per game, NEO is surrendering an average of 409.9 yards and 24 points per game.
Sophomore middle linebacker Cord Fletcher, of Henderson, ranks third in the conference with 81 total tackles for the Apaches, while outside linebacker Chris Loop, of Conroe, has 12 tackles for losses.
Leading the Golden Norse defensive unit is veteran outside linebacker Jon Coleman with 46 unassisted tackles and 42 assists.
Sophomore middle linebacker Jon Bullock ranks fourth in the SWJCFC with 44 solo tackles and 33 assists.
Freshman strong safety Devron Moore leads the conference with six interceptions returned for 248 yards and one TD. Moore also has 43 solo tackles and 26 assists.
Monty Franks, of the Miami (Okla.) Herald, contributed to this story.