Dec. 4, 2010
Bolles' four TDs lead Northwest into semis
By David Boyce
MARYVILLE, Mo.-Northwest Missouri State decided to try something different in its third playoff game.
Instead of trailing, the Bearcats quickly jumped to a 7-point lead and never trailed.
"It's much different not having to worry so much at the end," said senior linebacker Willie Horn, who had two interceptions.
The formula worked in the Bearcats' low anxiety 37-20 victory over Central Missouri Saturday afternoon in front of 8,125 fans at Bearcat Stadium.
"I can't say enough about the effort for 60 minutes today," Northwest coach Mel Tjeerdsma said. "We talk about being the Bearcats. We've had a lot of great teams. But these guys showed as much today and last week and the second half of the Missouri Western game as any group we've had."
In the first two playoff games, the Bearcats faced double-digit deficits in the second half.
"They played a great, all-around game," Central coach Jim Svoboda said of Northwest. "Their kids made a lot of plays when they had to. When we got it close, they came up with a play to keep it out of reach for us. They were really at a different level today.
"I'm extremely proud of our players and their effort, particularly our seniors."
Northwest is now just one victory away from making an unprecedented sixth straight appearance in the NCAA Division II championship game.
But the road to Florence, Ala., has one more major hurdle for the Bearcats. Northwest, 12-1, will face Minnesota Duluth, 13-0, in the semifinals next Saturday.
It's a chance for some of the current Bearcats to get some revenge. Two years ago Minnesota Duluth beat Northwest in the championship game.
To get to Duluth, the Bearcats first had to show Central that the 17-16 victory Northwest got at Warrensburg, Mo., to win the MIAA title was not lucky.
"It was important for us to jump on them early because last time we played them we couldn't really get a rhythm going on offense," said sophomore running back Jordan Simmons, who finished with 73 yards rushing and one touchdown and 59 yards receiving with a team-leading nine catches.
"We came out strong and tried to put the nail in the coffin early. We tried to come out fast."
The Bearcats made many key plays against Central on a blustery, but sunny afternoon.
It started with a beautiful 23-yard touchdown reception by Tyler Shaw from quarterback Blake Bolles that gave Northwest a 7-0 lead with 11:06 left in the first quarter.
"We ran the football well today and that was a big thing for us coming into the game," said Bolles, who went 20-for-32 for 226 yards and three touchdowns. "We knew if we could run the football it would open up things for us."
After Central tied the game, Northwest scored on its next drive, the bulk of which also came against the wind.
"It was so impressive the two drives in the wind they had to start off," Svoboda said. "I liked the way our kids fought back from that."
Other than one fumble that led to a Central touchdown late in the second quarter, Northwest played a near perfect first half and took a 24-14 lead into halftime.
"We couldn't come out slow like we've done in the past two games," Horn said. "That was our main key. The offense put the scores in and the defense had to match their intensity. I think we did a good job of that."
The one touchdown that Central scored because of the turnover, the Bearcats answered with an 11-play, 52-yard drive that ended with a 26-yard field goal by Todd Adolf.
The worst thing to happen for the Bearcats in the first half was an ankle injury to senior tight end Josh Baker on his touchdown reception that gave Northwest a 21-7 lead with 9:03 left in the second half.
Baker left on a cart and never returned.
"We are nicked up and beat up and it doesn't make any difference," Tjeerdsma said. "Somebody steps up and makes a play."
Defense really took center stage for the Bearcats in the second half. It started with Horn intercepting a pass on the first drive of the second half.
Neither offense could get much going in the third quarter.
"We limited the big plays over the top, which was a key for us this week," Horn said. "When it came down to making plays we did a pretty good job of it."
Horn jump started the Bearcats offense by getting his second interception of the game. Northwest took over at its 26.
Six plays later, junior wide receiver Jake Soy caught his first pass of the game. It broke the Mules' back. Soy's 58-yard touchdown reception gave Northwest a commanding 30-14 lead with 10:39 left in the game.
No way would the playoff savvy Bearcats blow a 16-point lead with less than a quarter to go.
Central, which had its best season in the program's history, showed why it won 11 of 14 games this season. The Mules drove for a touchdown and closed to 30-20. They were forced to go for two and were stopped.
"We beat an awfully good football team today," Tjeerdsma said. "Central Missouri is an excellent team. Jim has done an awesome job there. I really want to congratulate their team. They came out here and it was a battle."
But in the end Northwest played perhaps its most complete game so far in the playoffs. The defense didn't allow Central any big plays.
Junior defensive tackle Josh Lorenson consistently got pressure on Eric Czerniewski. It allowed the secondary to make plays.
The defensive line played strong all game.
"I thought one of the big strengths of ours was we actually tackled pretty well today," Lorenson said. "One good thing they do is break tackles and turn something small into something big."
Northwest's offensive line was equally as strong. They opened holes for the running game and gave Bolles time to pass and allowed his wide receivers to make plays.
"You have to give credit to the O-line," Bolles said. "They did a great job of blocking people and staying on bodies."
It was truly a championship effort from the entire Northwest team.
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