Dec. 3, 2010
Northwest hosts Central for regional title
By David Boyce
Since Northwest Missouri State's thrilling 17-16 victory over Central Missouri, the Mules have been scoring as if they were playing in the arena football league.
"They score 16 points in the first five minutes of the game now," Northwest coach Mel Tjeerdsma said.
And it has come against two playoff teams.
As impressive as Central's 55-35 victory over West Texas A&M in the first round of the playoffs in Warrensburg, Mo., the 55-41 win at South Central No. 1 seed Abilene Christian was indeed a major eye-opener.
Abilene Christian was undefeated and a veteran of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Central is making only its second-ever appearance in the playoffs. The last one was in 2002.
The Mules are now bringing their high-powered offense to Maryville to take on the defending national champions at 1 p.m. Saturday at Bearcat Stadium.
As you would expect, the Bearcats are ready.
"It is a big challenge," said senior free safety Aldwin Foster-Rettig. "We know West Texas and Abilene have surrendered some points this season, but not 55. When Central can come out and score that many points, we definitely see that as a challenge."
In a sense, Northwest's defense has something to prove against the Mules. In the instant classic first game, the showdown for the MIAA title, the Bearcats gave up a ton of yards.
Central Missouri consistently moved the ball and got into the red zone. But Northwest only allowed the Mules to get into the end zone once.
"The key in playing against them is to limit their big plays," said senior linebacker Willie Horn. "A lot of their scoring comes from the big play because they don't run the ball as well as they pass.
"We pride ourselves in stopping teams from scoring when they get in the red zone. For them not to be able to run it, it limits them in what they can do inside the 20. If we limit them from getting big plays, I think it will help our chances."
The key to stopping Central is to slow down senior quarterback Eric Czerniewski, who was voted MIAA offensive player of the year.
In the win against West Texas, Czerniewski went 33-for-42 for 368 yards and four touchdowns. He followed that with a 29-for-46 effort for 477 yards and six touchdowns against Abilene.
"They are just playing at a high level," Tjeerdsma said. "I don't think their scheme has changed. They are executing and making plays.
"Czerniewski is playing really well now. He's really had a great year. He's the whole key."
Obviously, Czerniewski is coming in with a lot of confidence. Even in the loss to Northwest, Czerniewski completed 35 of 56 passes for 392 yards and one touchdown.
The Bearcats must put pressure on Czerniewski. It's as simple as that.
"That's extremely important because he's a great quarterback," Horn said. "He has great weapons around him. We have to get pressure on him. We have to get him a little jittery back there and move him around in the pocket so that we can corral and get to him or make some of his throws sail off target.
"We know we have to get pressure on him."
And when Czerniewski gets time, the secondary understands they must make sure the receivers aren't wide open to make big gains.
"We have to cover them up," Foster-Rettig said. "They have great athletes at the receiver position and running back and tight end as well. We have to cover them up and keep our eyes on our man. I know the first time we played them we had a couple of mishaps in that area."
More than likely, Northwest will face some adversity against Central. They might even fall behind.
But the Bearcats know how to respond. For confirmation, just ask the football players at Missouri Western and Texas A&M-Kingsville.
"We just believe are going to win," said Northwest senior quarterback Blake Bolles. "We don't always know how it will happen, but we never give up on the game.
"We always will ourselves to win. We are going to find a way to get it done. We have guys who made plays when plays are needed to be made."
For the third straight time in the playoffs, Northwest is facing a team it played during the regular season.
The first week it was Missouri Western seeking revenge. Northwest won. Last week it was the Bearcats after revenge after the season-opening loss to Kingsville. The Bearcats avenged the loss.
Northwest is back in the role of stopping a team from getting revenge.
"There is no doubt that they think we were lucky to win and we stole it from them," Tjeerdsma said. "I'm sure they will be motivated.
"I'm sure the Bearcats will be motivated, too. We just want to advance. That's our motivation. There are eight teams left and we want to be part of four. That's what playoffs are all about."
It makes for another intriguing match-up.
"It is going to be a good game," Bolles said. "Central Missouri is playing great football right now. They have put up a lot of points in their first two games. They are feeling really good and confident in how they are playing. It should definitely be a good game. I know we are excited to get another shot at them."
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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