When the Dakota College at Bottineau football program returned from a 50-year hiatus in 2008, this was the type of success the Lumberjacks envisoned.
DCB (8-2) plays in its first ever bowl game Saturday at 1 p.m. against No. 18 Hutchinson Community College (Kan.) in the Salt City Bowl at Gowans Stadium in Hutchinson, Kan.
"We knew we had some better talent and we expected to be a little better this season knowing we had better talent," DCB coach Tim Pfeifer said. "In a few games things just fell our way. It's been a pleasant surprise, but we felt we'd be a little better."
Playing their final season as an independent, the Lumberjacks turned things around following a 1-6 campaign in 2012. The road's been kind to DCB as it went 5-1 away from home, including the Lumberjacks' 14-13 victory on Nov. 2 at North Dakota State College of Science - their first against the Wildcats.
"The last couple years we've been inching closer, narrowing and narrowing that gap," Pfeifer said. "After watching film, we really thought we had a decent chance going in and we played very well that day. We didn't think it was a fluke at all. We played really good football and deserved to win the game."
The Lumberjacks will join the Minnesota Junior College League next season.
DCB's success is attributed to a mix of solid offense, a stout defense and strong special teams play. The Lumberjacks average 29.7 points per game with quarterback Shazzon Mumphrey under center. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound sophomore has thrown for 1,559 yards and 16 touchdowns on 103 of 225 passing. Mumphrey's primary target is sophomore receiver Jonathan Parks, who's caught 33 passes for 511 yards and six touchdowns.
Providing the yards on the ground is sophomore running back Jamarr Patterson. The 5-9, 200-pound back has carried 121 times for 605 yards and six touchdowns. The Lumberjacks average 326.1 yards per contest, split nearly down the middle at 164 passing yards and 162.1 rushing yards per contest.
Aside from a 66-19 setback to Iowa Central Community College on Sept. 7, DCB's defense has been stellar. The Lumberjacks allow 19.5 points per game, holding opponents to seven or fewer points four times. Freshman linebacker O'Brea Williams leads the team in tackles with 47 and has an interception and two fumble recoveries. Freshman Keilin Mozee has a team-high five interceptions.
"Kids know their responsibilities and are playing their positions," defensive coordinator Dan Davis said. "We've really tried to emphasize with them is play your responsibility. Don't worry about doing someone else's job, just do your job. We have some very talented student-athletes.
Freshman Da'Robert Tezino provides a threat in the return game, averaging 28.9 yards per kickoff return with one touchdown. The Lumberjacks average 23.6 yards per punt return and 18.8 on kickoffs.
While DCB is a bowl newcomer, postseason play is nothing new for the Blue Dragons (7-4). This is HCC's 18th bowl appearance and fifth consecutive. The Blue Dragons are 9-6-2 all-time in bowl games.
Two of HCC's losses came in overtime, including a six-OT marathon against Butler Community College (Kan.). Butler also defeated the Blue Dragons in the Region VI championship.
"They play some very good football and they're going to be pretty talented," Pfeifer said. "They're going to probably have a little more speed than us and it's going to be a tough game. But we're going to go line 'em up and see what we can do and hope for the best."
The Blue Dragons have sent players to the NFL. Minnesota Vikings' wide receiver and return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson played two seasons at HCC, where he was named an NJCAA All-American both years, before transferring to the University of Tennessee.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.