Nov. 26, 2010
Putting it all together
By David Boyce
For the third straight season, Northwest Missouri State gets a chance to avenge a season-opening loss in a playoff game.
The previous two years the Bearcats got revenge by beating Abilene Christian and eventually making it to the NCAA Division II national championship game.
Another team from Texas looms for Northwest, the defending national champions.
The Bearcats can finally cleanse the bitter taste of the 16-7, season-opening home loss to Texas A&M-Kingsville at 1 p.m. Saturday when they travel to Kingsville, Texas and take on the Javelinas.
Northwest, ranked third in NCAA Division II, is 10-1. No. 2Kingsville is also 10-1.
"It's a chance to redeem yourself and prove to yourself, your fans and the other team that you are better than what you showed the first time," Northwest coach Mel Tjeerdsma said.
Surely, there is more to the Bearcats' playoff road success against a team that has beaten them than the emotion of revenge.
"I think it is good that they got us the first time," senior cornerback Justin Welch said. "It gives us a chance to rewrite the story if we can get them in the playoffs where it counts.
"Our team knows what it takes to perform well in hostile environments. We are all focused on getting this done. Playing well on the road is something we've been doing well since I've been here."
Since 2005, the Bearcats are 7-0 in road playoff games.
Winning on the road is hard during the regular season for most teams. It should be even more difficult in the playoffs when so much is riding on the game.
"We can't afford to lose again," Welch said. "We are going into the game with the same mentality that we always do - we expect to win.
"When you play a road playoff game, we might not have as many fans there as a home game, but it is do or die. You have to win the game or you go home. Our goal is to get back to the national championship game and defend our title."
What Welch means by going home is putting the pads and shoulder pads away for the winter, and for the seniors, to never wear a Bearcat jersey on the football field again.
When the Bearcats return to Maryville from Kingsville, they definitely want to be preparing for their next game against either Abilene Christian or Central Missouri in the quarterfinals.
The Bearcats got a scary glimpse of how quickly a season can end if you're not playing your best football in the playoffs. Northwest trailed rival-Missouri Western 17-0 at halftime before rallying for a 28-24 victory.
"People know I'm not an emotional person," Welch said. "But there are guys like Willie Horn and Roberto Davis that came in at halftime last week and took that leadership role and let everybody know what the deal was. I congratulate them. I'm not that type of person. I'm glad we have players on the team who do that for us.
"We might have taken Missouri Western lightly because of the first game. I really don't know. I'm just glad we changed it over in the second half and came back out to play some really good football."
The Bearcats played nearly mistake free. On offense, the silly, unfocused false start penalties that marred the first three drives of the game were gone.
The defense gave up just one touchdown in the second half, and spent the rest of the half completely shutting down the Griffons.
It was, Tjeerdsma said, the best football his team has played all season.
Will there be a carry over?
"That's my goal," Tjeerdsma said. "We won't know until1 p.m. Saturday, but that's what we hope to see. It was good for them to experience the feeling of putting it all together."
The Bearcats are playoff savvy enough to know that they can't afford to fall behind by 17 points in future postseason games.
"We haven't put it together for a full game," said junior offensive lineman Cody Johnson. "That second half was the best we've played on both sides of the ball in a while. Hopefully, the next game we play like that for both halves because if we get in a hole like that, I don't know if we can come back. Kingsville is a very good team."
Even though Northwest has lost just one game and has gone through the MIAA for a fifth straight season without a loss, the players haven't felt exactly thrilled by the way they have played thus far.
Some games the offense clicks. Other games, the defense carries the load. There just haven't been games where everything has come together.
"Right now we are trying to get everything together and make sure we are prepared. In the playoffs you get one chance," Welch said.
"We haven't played a game where we have all been on the same page. That's what makes us dangerous in the playoffs because nobody has seen us play together the whole game. If we do that, we have enough talent on this team to be very dangerous."
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