Nationally ranked Pioneers advance to Graphic Edge Bowl

Northland will face Ellsworth Community College in Cedar Falls, Iowa, at 11:00 a.m. (CT) on Sunday, December 3

On November 12, 2017, the Northland Pioneers football team won the 2017 MCAC State Championship and NJCAA Region XIII title with a 68-35 victory over Mesabi Range Community College in St. Cloud, MN. The victory earned Northland Community & Technical College (NCTC) its first ever MCAC Championship football title. The nationally ranked Pioneers will now advance to the Graphic Edge Bowl on December 3, 2017, at the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The Pioneers will face Ellsworth Community College (Iowa Falls, IA) with kickoff starting at 11:00 a.m. (CT).

The Pioneers ended the regular season with an overall record of 9-2, going 3-2 in the MCAC Western Division. Heading into his second season and armed with a strong incoming recruiting class Northland Pioneers head football coach Jim Cox set high expectations on the season. "Before the season started I posted our team objectives for 2017," Cox said. "One goal included winning the conference championship. A lofty goal, but with the recruits we had coming in I thought it was very achievable. The next goal was to go to a bowl game."

Lead by a recruiting class, in which some players established NJCAA national records, coach Cox quickly moved the Pioneer football program forward in just two short years. Cox explained, "We have great student-athletes here. Guys on the team that have done great things statistically. Quarterback Shannon Patrick established NJCAA national records for passing attempts, passing completions, and he will easily beat the completions per game record. He has an outside chance of breaking the all-time passing yardage. Malik Williams has 89 catches, Dakari Highsmith has 78. The all-time record is 100. So there is a chance for both of them to hit that record too."

We are not only going to go to the bowl game, but we are going to beat a scholarship program.

A lot of hard work, training and preparation went into the season. "Last January, I told the team to get ready to work. We are not only going to go to the bowl game, but we are going to beat a scholarship program," said Cox.

Mike Curfman, NCTC TRF Academic Dean and Athletic Director, said, "Jim has been a wonderful addition to our athletic staff. He is a tremendous recruiter and has the ability to get the best out of his players. This year's team has been so fun to watch, they have the ability to score from anywhere, at any time and our defense has made some big plays." Curfman added, "Winning our first ever MCAC Championship is a tribute to Jim, his coaches and players and a great reward for all their hard work and preparation that they do week in and week out. Jim has really been able to move Pioneer football forward in the short time he has been here, it has been impressive to watch."

Several players expressed their excitement on winning the MCAC Championship title and playing in the upcoming bowl game.

"It feels great. Coming into the season, not a lot of people expected us to win the championship, or even make it to that level. So to come this far, it means a lot to our team and our program," said quarterback Shannon Patrick. "For me personally, I had high expectations and knew we could make it to the championship game. I had a feeling with the players that we had, both defensively and offensively, that we had the athletes to be able to compete with the best and make it to the championship and a bowl game."

For me personally, I had high expectations and knew we could make it to the championship game.

During the MCAC Championship game the Pioneers were down 28-27 at halftime, but in the second half their high-scoring offense stormed out of the gate and put up 41 points.

Sophomore receiver Malik Williams said, "During the championship game, it was pretty tough during the first half. Coach Cox came into the locker room at half and told us we were not playing like the team we are, so we went out for the second half and proved we could win it."

Sophomore defensive back Damian Francis said, "At the beginning of the season we were voted to be second to last, but I knew with the players and talent we had that we would make it far." Francis continued, "Early in the season we felt we had a great team so I was confident we were going to make it to the bowl game. I'm really looking forward to proving ourselves again in the Graphic Edge Bowl."

At the beginning of the season we were voted to be second to last, but I knew with the players and talent we had that we would make it far.

"The team has worked so hard for this and it is what we practiced all year for. We spent so much time practicing after hours, working in the weight room, and watching film to improve our skills," explained sophomore receiver Dakari Highsmith. "It means a lot to me and the team to win the championship title and advance on to a bowl game."

"To see the smiles on the players faces and to finally win the championship title is something special. It means a lot for these young men to come and play such good quality football, it is fantastic," Cox explained on the team's success this season.

Following the MCAC Championship game the National Junior College Athletics Association (NJCAA) announced the 2017 Coach-of-the-Year and Most-Valuable-Player (MVP) of the year awards. The Pioneers swept both of these prestigious awards. Head coach Jim Cox was named Coach-of-the-Year and quarterback Shannon Patrick (Wellington, FL) earned the MVP award as well as a place on the NJCAA All-Region and MCAC Western All-Division teams.

Other Pioneers named to the NJCAA All-Region team include Malik Williams (WR - Lakeworth, FL), Dakari Highsmith (WR - Tampa, FL), Justin Scott (DT - Chicago, IL), Dontae Ensley (P - Cedar Spring, MI), and Ethan Halvorson (OG - Thief River Falls, MN).

Players named to the MCAC Western All-Division team include Malik Williams (WR - Lakeworth, FL), Dakarai Highsmith (WR - Tampa, FL), Justin Scott (DT - Chicago, IL), Damien Francis (SS - New Iberia, LA), Ethan Halvorson (OG - Thief River Falls, MN), Tarik Davis (CB - Celilia, LA), Edgar Chavez (OT - Mesquite, TX), Kendal Sylvester (DL - Opelousas, LA), Alvaro Vazquez (OT - Witchita Falls, TX), and Ethan Hill (DE - Elba, AL). Several players received honorable mention including David Bordes (LB - Kissimmee, FL), Dwayne Taylor (WR - Trinity Christian, MO), Ishmail Mitchell (WR - Chicago, IL), Quan Priestley (CB - Lafayette, LA), and Deion Hogan (RB - Tallahassee, FL).

A photo gallery from the MCAC Championship game is available online at

For further information on the upcoming Graphic Edge Bowl game, please visit

A live stream of the Graphic Edge Bowl will be available online at

Northland Community and Technical College (NCTC) is a comprehensive college with campuses in Thief River Falls, MN, and East Grand Forks, MN. NCTC also has an aerospace site in Thief River Falls, MN, and a satellite site in Roseau, MN. NCTC offers certificates, diplomas, transfer courses, two-year degrees (A.A.S., A.S., A.A.) in more than 80 areas of study, workforce training and education programs. NCTC is a member of Minnesota State, the fourth-largest system of two-year colleges and four-year universities in the United States, and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. NCTC is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer. For more information about Northland Community & Technical College, visit or call 1.800.959.6282.