The Jacksonville State Gamecocks will play Saturday for their first championship since 1992.
Still, head coach John Grass said he’s prepared his team like he would any other week of the season.
“We're excited about an opportunity to play in this game and have the opportunity to play for a national championship,” Grass said in a teleconference Monday. “Now as far as the game itself on Saturday, we play a faceless opponent every week. It don't really matter about who we play. It's about how we play.
“We preach that in our guys and I think our guys will be ready for the challenge and ready to go out and play ball and have fun doing it. It's going to be a great game”
The top-ranked Gamecocks come into Saturday’s game as a 3-point underdog to the four-time defending champion North Dakota Bison.
It will be the Gamecocks’ biggest stage since they played Auburn University on Sept. 12. It was the Gamecocks’ only loss of the season, and they actually advanced to No. 1 in the FCS polls following the 27-20 overtime loss.
“We played extremely well that day at a high level,” he said. “I don't think any stage intimidates our guys or who we're playing intimidates our guys. They really don't look at that. It's all about us and how we play.
“Really, when it boils down to it in the coaching world we all know that it really doesn't matter. It's how you play because it's the only thing you're actually in control of. You're not in control of who you're playing and how they play. You can only control your effort and how you play.”
This will be the third meeting between the two schools, with JSU winning the two previous games.
This season on offense has been one of the most productive for the Gamecocks.
JSU has won its last two FCS playoff games in dominant fashion over Charleston Southern and Sam Houston State.
“We try to be a balanced offense, and we try to load the box up and put enough in the box to run the ball,” Grass said. “That’s just kind of our philosophy. I think we you’ve got two on the outside like (Josh) Barge, and (Rueben) Gonzalez, it makes it kind of hard to crowd too much. So that’s where we’ve been very effective.
“And (quarterback) Eli (Jenkins) makes throws, when you’ve got a guy that can do that, pus the way we can run the football, I think it does make us a little different, a little harder to defend.”
Eli Jenkins has accounted for 8,212 yards of total offense in his JSU career, breaking Montressa Kirby’s school record of 7,688 from 1995-98.
JSU has produced 7,409 yards of total offense this season.
But, Grass said it was more than just his offensive playmakers on the corners or under center that have made this season so special.
“We want to be good up front O-linewise, and we want to be good D-linewise. I think it starts up front with any good defense,” he said.
However, the Gamecocks’ defense likely won’t know who will be leading the Bison until game time.
Redshirt freshman Easton Stick has started the last eight games for the Bison, filling in for standout senior Carson Wentz.
The 6-foot-2 Stick has been a dual-threat. He’s completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,144 yards with 13 TDs and only three interceptions. The 6-foot-6 Wentz is a traditional pocket passer. He, too, completed better than 60 percent of his passes in seven games. He accounted for 16 TDs and only two INTs.
Grass said his team would be focused and ready to attack no matter the QB his team lines up against at 11 a.m. today at Toyota Stadium.
“We’re very excited to be coming to Frisco and playing in the championship game,” he said. “Guys are just excited to be practicing, and I’m exited to be practicing football this time of year.
“It’s a great thing for our school and our program. It’s a great venue, and we’re just glad to be a part of it and representing our university.”