Nov. 12, 2010
Team play keeps Northwest perfect heading to KC
By David Boyce
So often this season, when Northwest Missouri State's offense starts to roll, a false start or holding penalty pops up that halts the drive.
Or when the Bearcat defense has an opposing offense on its heels, an offsides call gives it new life.
"Most of those kinds of penalties come from lack of focus," coach Mel Tjeerdsma said. "When you are focused and doing what you are supposed to do, you don't have those kinds of penalties.
"It's just a bit of frustration for us as coaches to not have that altogether. Hopefully, we will get it figured out."
The thing the Bearcats have figured out this season is being a team. It's the main reason why they have overcome the penalties to go 8-1 overall and maintain their stranglehold of first place in the MIAA.
Northwest heads into its final regular-season game against Pittsburg State at 2 p.m. Saturday at the New Arrowhead Stadium with a perfect 8-0 conference mark.
The Bearcats are aiming for their fifth straight undefeated conference season. Simply put, teamwork has put them in this position.
Unlike some previous seasons, Northwest has had few games in which everything clicked. The conference-opening victory at Nebraska-Omaha and the home win against Missouri Western are really the only two in which all units performed at a high level.
Still, the Bearcats have marched perfectly through the MIAA because each unit has complete trust in the other.
"I think it is huge to know that if we need something to happen we have faith in our offense to go out and do it," said senior linebacker Willie Horn. "Like last week, we knew the offense was struggling, but we kept telling ourselves on the sideline that we had to keep making plays that would give our offense a chance.
"We knew if we gave our offense enough chances that at some point they would make a play for us and put us in a position to win the game. That's what happened."
It's easy to make sophomore placekicker Todd Adolf the hero for booting a 45-yard field goal in the final seconds of Northwest's 17-16 win at Central Missouri last week.
A strong team bond is really the element that made the kick possible. Northwest went into halftime leading 7-3. It could have been 10-3 if Adolf made a 26-yard field goal just before halftime.
"Willie and a few other guys came up to me at halftime and said keep your head up because we are going to need you later," Adolf said. "That was a big confidence booster that they still believed in me and had faith in me."
In the second half against Central, the Bearcats had trouble moving the ball. It was in sharp contrast to the last three games in which the offense started on fire in the third quarter, scoring on the first drive and setting a tone.
An inability to consistently move the ball forced the defense to make plays and keep the game close until the offense found itself. The offense has done the same when the defense gives up points.
"It really brings us closer together," said senior quarterback Blake Bolles. "It definitely makes you think you don't have to press so hard to do one thing right because you know that no matter what happens the defense will pick you up or the special teams or the offense or whoever will pick you up.
"It's really good to know you have teammates who will pick you up no matter what happens during the course of the game."
Horn added, "It really builds our trust. Most teams, if you see one side of the ball struggling you will hear the other side complaining and moaning throughout the game. That's one thing that we pride ourselves on is defense will handle its side, offense will handle its side and that's what we've been trying to do all year.
"That's why we've been able to get away with some of the small things that we've been doing wrong."
Still, no matter how close they are as a team, the Bearcats know they can't keep making silly penalties in the playoffs. They will be playing teams just as strong and with the same desire to win a national title.
"Like our coach says, you can't blame yourself for wanting to make a play, but at the same time, you got to be smart," Horn said.
As excited as the Bearcats are to be playing at Arrowhead again and have the opportunity to win another outright conference title, the focus at practice this week were on the little things.
"Our focus has to be on ourselves and self improvement," Tjeerdsma said. "My goal for each of our players is to do everything they can to be the best they can be on Saturday.
"If we do our best, the results we are looking for will come. I believe that."
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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