Falcons earn spot in national championship game
Lackawanna College earns No. 2 ranking, including two first-place votes, in NJCAA Top 20.
Back in August, it sounded nice, but seemed a bit of a reach for the Lackawanna College football team.
“We want to play for a national championship.”
As the season went on, and the Falcons kept winning and the right combination of teams suffered losses, it became a possibility.
One day after capping a second straight undefeated regular season, it became a reality.
Lackawanna will, indeed, play for the National Junior College Athletic Association championship.
When the final NJCAA Top 20 poll was released Monday, the Falcons (10-0) remained No. 2. As a result, they received an invite to play in the title game against No. 1 Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (11-0) on Dec. 5 at Carnie Smith Stadium in Pittsburg, Kansas.
Kickoff is 6 p.m. EST. The game will be televised live on CBS Sports Network.
Head coach Mark Duda was raking leaves in his yard Monday around 1 p.m. when he got the phone call.
“It’s taken some time for it to sink in. It’s really awesome,” Duda said. “I’ve been here for 27 years and we’ve had some pretty good football teams and never had an opportunity like this.
“Everything had to line up for it to happen. The right people had to lose, we had to keep winning. Lo and behold, it happened. It’s going to be wonderful for our kids
to go play on the biggest stage.”
Quarterback and Delaware Valley graduate Matt Cavallaro echoed Duda’s sentiments.
“We expect to win every game, so we go into each week wanting to go 1-0. But a lot of things had to take place for us to get this opportunity,” Cavallaro said. “We expected to get dropped behind teams with one or two losses. It’s kind of disheartening because you work so hard, you’re undefeated and another team is going ahead of you.
“It didn’t really hit me until today. It’s here. This is real. We’ve got one shot at it, we’ve got to go make the most of it.”
Joya Whittington, Lackawanna athletic director, said in a statement she is extremely proud and happy for Duda, his staff and the players.
“Coach is an incredible leader, and it is a true honor to work with him every day,” Whittington said. “His program once again raises the bar for Lackawanna College athletics.”
This is the first appearance in the national championship game for Lackawanna. It beat then-no. 9 Georgia Military College on Sunday at Scranton Memorial Stadium, 37-30, to extend its winning streak to 22 games. The Falcons have not lost since Oct. 28, 2017, to the College of Dupage, 24-0.
“Twenty-two wins in a row is hard to dismiss,” Duda said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever do it again, but it’s sure been fun doing it.”
Mississippi Gulf Coast is riding its own lengthy winning streak, having not lost since Sept. 27, 2018, to Copiah-lincoln Community College, 38-13.
The Bulldogs won their 15th straight game Saturday, overcoming three deficits to defeat then-no. 4 Northwest Mississippi, 23-19, in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges championship game.
Three times in program history, Mississippi Gulf Coast has won the NJCAA championship: 1971, 1984 and 2007 as co-champs with Butler Community College, Kansas. The Bulldogs also captured the Junior College Championship in 1948, eight years before the first official NJCAA championship game.
Also, head coach Jack Wright is trying to become the first to win NJCAA titles with two different programs. He led Northwest Mississippi to the crown in 2015.
“I talked to their coach (Monday) and we’ll start looking at them after the film exchange (today),” Duda said. “I’m sure we’ll find they’re a very good team. And I’m sure they’ll find we’re the same.
“It’ll be interesting to look at them. There’s no common opponents.”
Cavallaro said it will be tough for he and his teammates to contain their excitement in the weeks leading up to the game.
“Everybody’s real pumped up about it,” Cavallaro said. “It’s a good feeling, but now it’s time to get to work.
“We have a great team, a lot of great personalities and we’re real close. Junior college football, you don’t go out and play in front of 50,000 people, 100,000 people. You play because you love the game. We play for each other and our coaches. It’s been a lot of fun to go out there and compete. This is a great opportunity for us. We plan on going out there and winning the national championship.”