ARKADELPHIA, Ark. (HSU) -- After completing the regular-season undefeated and claiming the Great American Conference championship, Henderson State will make its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division II Football Playoffs as the Reddies play host to Missouri Western State on Saturday at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium with the opening kickoff set for Noon.
Saturday's game will feature two of the most prolific offenses in all of Division II and a pair of finalists for the Harlon Hill Trophy in Henderson State quarterback Kevin Rodgers and Missouri Western running back Michael Hill.
Defense may be the key to winning as both offenses can light up the scoreboard with the Reddies leading the nation in scoring averaging 53.3 points per game, while Missouri Western averages 43.9 points per contest which ranks sixth nationally.
"Minnesota Western is an outstanding team," said Henderson State Coach Scott Maxfield. "I watched their game last week and it was one of the best football games I watched. They showed a lot of heart against Minnesota-Duluth and any time you can win a game in triple overtime against a team that has won two national titles in the past four years is pretty impressive. We will have to play our best game of the year."
For the Reddies to keep pace with the Griffons, Rodgers will have to have another outstanding performance. The unanimous choice for GAC Offensive Player of the Year, Rodgers has eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark seven times this season and has completed 234-of-344 passes for 3590 yards and 40 touchdowns.
The sophomore from Rockwall, Texas needs just 389 more yards passing to become Henderson's all-time leader in career passing-yards and surpass Nick Hardesty who threw for 5,254 yards.
Having a major impact in Rodgers' success have been the Reddie receivers. Rodgers has thrown to 17 different receivers this season with four receivers earning All-GAC honors.
Robert Jordan leads the Reddie receivers with 949 yards on 56 catches and 10 touchdowns. The First-Team All-GAC selection averages 16.9 yards per reception. The junior from Miami, Fla. became the 13th player in Henderson State history to record 1,000 yards receiving in a career.
Dustin Holland, also a First-Team All-GAC pick, follows Jordan with 49 catches for 761 yards. The sophomore from Bryant, Ark. averages 15.5 yards per catch and has scored four touchdowns this season.
Jarvis Smith leads the Reddie ground game with 769 yards on 109 carries while having scored eight touchdowns. The senior from Drew, Miss. had a career-high 191 yards against Ouachita Baptist and he will need to have another big game against Missouri Western to take some pressure off the Reddie passing game.
"We have to play our type of football game, "Maxfield said. "Our main priority is to execute on offense. We can't afford any turnovers and we will have to make some big plays."
Defensively, the Reddies enter the post season allowing just 18.8 points per game while giving up an average of 360 total yards per contest.
Maxie Graham and Keaton Stigger headline the Reddie defense. Graham, the GAC Defensive Player of the Year, leads the Reddies with 102 tackles, while Stigger, a First-Team All-GAC honoree has 87 stops.
"Our defense must tackle well and eliminate the big plays," said Maxfield. "Missouri Western will move the football, we will have to tighten up in the "red zone" and force them to kick field goals."
Missouri Western enters the game with an 11-1 record after beating Minnesota-Duluth 57-55 in triple overtime a week ago. The Griffons have won five straight games over nationally-ranked opponents.
The Griffons are loaded with veteran talent. A total of 14 Griffon starters are seniors, with eight on offense and six on defense.
Quarterback Travis Partridge is a first-team All-MIAA selection. The junior from St. Joseph, Mo. has thrown for 2,342 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. Partridge is 20-4 as the Griffon starting signal caller.
Michael Hill is one of the premier running backs in the nation. The MIAA Offensive Player of the Year is second nationally in average yards per game (166.3) having totaled 1,996 yards on 269 rushing attempts. A Harlon Hill national finalist, Hill has 4,797 career rushing yards including 43 touchdowns.
"Hill is an outstanding running back who is very explosive," Maxfield said. "We have to contain him if possible and not let him have the big runs. We haven't seen a running back like him and it will be a big challenge."
The Griffons have a huge offensive line anchored by Macon Allen who is a four-year letterman having made 48 starts. Allen is a two-time First-Team All-MIAA selection. The Griffon offensive line is made up of five seniors with the average size being 6-foot-2 and 301 pounds.
The Griffon defensive is led by tackle Ben Pister who has 21.5 tackles for lost yardage. A First-Team All-MIAA selection, the senior from St. Joseph, Mo. also has eight sacks and nine quarterback hurries.
Defensive end David Bass has 10.5 sacks in 12 games this season, while having a career total of 39.5. Bass has a total of 50 tackles on the year.
"Henderson State has a great football team," said MWSU Coach Jerry Partridge on his weekly television show. "They are fast, have several talented players, and they even dress like the Alabama Crimson Tide to scare you more."
Coach Partridge has led the Griffons to three straight playoff appearances and doesn't believe that Henderson's lack of playoff experience will have an impact.
"Saturday should be a great game with two great teams just going at it," said Partridge. "Henderson will come out with a lot of emotion we will have to withstand that emotion and play smart."
Tickets for Saturday's game are $10 for adults and $5 for students. Gates open at 10 a.m. and tickets can be purchased at all entrances.
The game can be heard on 100.9 KDEL in Arkadelphia, 101.5 The SPUR in Hot Springs, or via the internet at www.hsusports.com with Phil Elson providing the play-by-play, RJ Hawk adding color commentary, and Daniel Gallegos reporting from the sidelines. Live video streaming will also be available.