Northwestern hopes for better luck this time

Thursday, September 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AP--The Northwestern Oklahoma football team has won 20 consecutive games, dating to midway through the 1998 season. Coach Garin Higgins says it will take a special effort to reach No. 21.

The Rangers, defending NAIA national champions, play host to Central Oklahoma on Saturday. UCO is an NCAA Division II school, which translates into more scholarships and a bigger budget than Northwestern.

"We're kind of like in the boat they were in last week when they played Stephen F. Austin," Higgins said of the Bronchos. Stephen F. Austin, a Division I-AA team, has about twice as many scholarships available as UCO.

"They're a quality program," Higgins said of UCO. "I've got all the respect in the world for their coaching staff. Coach (Gary) Howard, I think he's got more experience himself than my whole staff put together."

Howard is in his 24th season as the Bronchos' head coach. Higgins is in his first year, after spending six as an assistant with the Rangers.

Higgins was offensive coordinator two years ago when Northwestern lost to Central Oklahoma, 3-0. The Rangers gained more yards than UCO, but didn't score.

"We were inside the 10 four times," Higgins said. "It was just one of those nights we couldn't get in the end zone. It was like there was a force field around it. We missed four field goals, too."

The Rangers haven't had any trouble finding the end zone in their first two games. They beat Panhandle State 67-0 in the opener and followed that with a 49-7 victory over East Central.

Northwestern outrushed the Tigers 353-78. Quarterback Al Hunt ran for 145 yards, threw for 131 and had an 82-yard punt for good measure.

"That's another reason we're pretty good _ we've got a pretty good quarterback," Higgins said.

Central Oklahoma threw a scare into Stephen F. Austin, losing 38-31 in overtime. The Lumberjacks needed a field goal late in regulation to force overtime.

Higgins said a victory by UCO may have left the possibility of a letdown for the Bronchos this week, having to go on the road to play an NAIA school. Instead, he expects the opposite.

But he said his team will be waiting. There are several players on this team who remember the disappointment of that '98 loss to the Bronchos.

"I don't have to do anything to get them ready to play," he said.

In other small-college games this week, East Central plays host to Emporia State, Panhandle State is home to play Colorado School of Mines, Langston travels to Lambuth, Tenn., and Southwestern Oklahoma visits Texas A&M-Commerce.