FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) -Northwest Missouri State is back for another crack at the Division II national football championship, while Minnesota-Duluth is playing in its first title game.
Northwest Missouri (13-1) is competing Saturday in its fourth consecutive championship game, having lost the last three by a combined 12 points. For Minnesota-Duluth (14-0), the game is only its third playoff appearance and marks the first time a Northern Sun Conference member has played for the title.
``We are such a young football team that I don't think anybody would have thought we were going to be here, other than our seniors,'' said Northwest Missouri coach Mel Tjeerdsma, who has a record 25 playoff wins. ``As far as what's happened here before, I don't see that as being a big factor with them.
``They're thrilled to be here and they're thrilled to have an opportunity to play for a national championship.''
Northwest Missouri, which won the title in 1998 and '99, lost its opener to Abilene Christian. The Bearcats haven't lost again.
warmer, as a rare snowstorm passed through the area.
While it's the first time a Minnesota-Duluth Division II team has made it to an NCAA championship game, the Bulldog women have won four Division I hockey titles.
``It's a big deal,'' quarterback Ted Schlafke said. ``We're more recognized as a hockey school and maybe it won't be like that anymore.''
Both teams breezed through the semifinals. Northwest Missouri cruised past North Alabama 41-7 and the Bulldogs routed California, Pa., 45-7 on the road. They each have prolific running backs and quarterbacks who take care of the ball.
Northwest Missouri's biggest weapon has been running back La'Ron Council, who has run for 1,640 yards and 35 touchdowns. He needs two touchdowns to match Xavier Omon's school record set last season.
Quarterback Joel Osborn has thrown for 23 touchdowns against just six interceptions.
``You expect to be in a national championship game playing the nation's best, and I certainly think we are,'' Minnesota-Duluth coach Bob Nielson said. ``They're a team that plays very consistently. It's hard to find a weakness and they have got good players everywhere on the field.''
Minnesota-Duluth's Isaac Odim has run for 1,569 yards and 25 TDs while averaging 7.7 yards per carry. Schlafke has 33 TD passes against just eight picks.
Both offenses are averaging about 455 yards a game.
Minnesota-Duluth ranks in the top four nationally in total defense, scoring defense and run defense. The Bulldogs are allowing just 231 yards, 11.4 points and 58 rushing yards a game.

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