Oct. 15, 2010
Then and Now, the quest for 42
By David Boyce
Breaking down Northwest's 41-game conference win streak:
Date Started: Nov. 5, 2005 -- 49-14 win vs. SBU
Average points scored: 42.7
Average points allowed: 15.2
Average margin of victory: 27.5
Games decided by less than 14 pts: 11
Games decided by more than 40 pts: 12
Slimmest win: 1 (Washburn, 28-27, 2007)
Largest wins: 73 (SBU, 86-13, 2007)
Nine years ago, on a late October Saturday afternoon, Blake Bolles figured he was playing backyard football and watching his Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Northwest Missouri State football was the furthest thing from his mind. He certainly wasn't aware that the Bearcats' amazing 41-game conference winning streak was about to end.
Coach Mel Tjeerdsma remembers the day. The losses don't leave him.
Few expected Truman to pull off the stunning upset. Sure, the Bulldogs were well-coached by the late John Ware, but they weren't on the Bearcats' level.
Northwest was 6-1 and had just come off a 35-31 victory at Pittsburg State, which turned out to be the last time the Bearcats played a regular-season game in Pittsburg, Kan.
The following week was homecoming against Truman. It was time for more celebration in Maryville. It didn't happen. Northwest lost 24-23 with 10 seconds left in the game.
The loss was the beginning of a three-game losing streak that saw the Bearcats fall 37-36 at Central Missouri and 37-30 in overtime at home to Missouri Western.
That one stretch showed just how quickly circumstances can change, especially in a conference as deep with playoff-caliber teams as the MIAA.
"I think that has been our saving grace," Tjeerdsma said. "Our kids have really bought into that. To our kids' credit, we have a lot of respect for everybody. We really don't take anybody for granted."
Northwest heads into Saturday's home game against Emporia State fully aware of what is at stake and conscious that it must bring its ‘A' game in order to win.
A victory means Northwest wins its 42 straight regular-season conference game and establishes a new level of dominance.
To Bolles, the game has the same meaning as the previous one.
"I just try to think of every game that we have to go 1-0 every week," he said. "This is just another game we got to go out and win and then go to the next game.
"We definitely don't try to read too much into the records or anything like that. But to win that many conference games in a row is a tribute to our team and the other teams the streak started with.
"I really haven't caught myself thinking about it too much. I definitely know it is there and something that is an amazing thing in itself to win this many games in a row in a really tough conference."
The Bearcats simply can't afford to get caught up in the hoopla that surrounds such an impressive record.
Emporia State is much improved from last year. The Hornets are 5-2 and coming off a win against rival Pittsburg State.
In some ways, Emporia State is like the 2001 Truman team. The Hornets, while not quite a playoff-bound team, are good enough to beat just about any MIAA team.
"They have been playing really well," Bolles said. "Their defense is really good. They got some athletic guys on the defensive side of the ball. They are definitely an athletic team.
"If you go into a game thinking ahead or worried about the record or whatever the case might be, you could lose to Emporia. We just got to treat it like another game and play the best we can and just focus on getting another win."
|Quarterback Blake Bolles has started
the last 13 games during the streak.
Tjeerdsma, in his typical humorous way, was slow to compare the teams of the two streaks.
"I'm pretty old. I can't remember that far back," Tjeerdsma said.
But it didn't take too much prodding to get Tjeerdsma to analyze the two streaks.
He recalls the one from 1997 through 2001 the Bearcats dominated many of those games. They had a few close ones early in the 2000 season and then rolled at the end, winning by scores of 52-0 over Missouri Southern, 62-7 over Emporia State, 63-21 at Washburn, 70-7 over Missouri Rolla and 55-17 over Central Missouri.
Many longtime Northwest fans will say the 2000 team was more talented than the 1999 team that won a national championship.
During the current streak, the Bearcats have had many more close games and fewer blowouts. But there is a reason for that, according to Tjeerdsma.
"The last few years there have been five or six teams that if we were a little bit off we were going to get beat," he said. "That really wasn't true when we had the string before.
"We had Pitt. State and maybe one other team that was different each year that was fairly good and the rest of them weren't quite where we were at. From that standpoint, this group is a pretty special group."
It's a group that enjoy listening to former players come back and talk about their time playing for Northwest. One of those players who recently came back for a little chat was quarterback Travis Miles, who guided the Bearcats in 1999 and 2000.
"It is really cool to see how much pride they have in this football program at Northwest," Bolles said. "Everybody who comes back they are real excited and they talk about the old days. You can definitely get that sense of pride these guys have and what it means to be part of the Bearcat family."
As much as the current Bearcats respect the players that came before them, they have no intention of sharing the record.
"That is definitely something we aren't planning on doing," Bolles said. "Obviously, those guys who set that record previously were great and a testament to everything they did, but we definitely want to keep this streak alive for five more games."
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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