Dec. 10, 2010
Semifinal Showdown Saturday at Duluth
By David Boyce
Two years ago when Northwest Missouri State played Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA Division II championship football game, the Bearcats were surprised by what they saw on the field.
The Bulldogs were faster than what Northwest players thought. The Bearcats got lulled into believing they were quicker by simply watching film of Minnesota-Duluth games in November and December.
Well, it's mighty cold in Duluth this time of year. Nobody runs fast when it's zero degrees.
The problem has been taken care of for Saturday's semifinal game.
"We told our guys this: you have to watch Winona, which was played in early October," Northwest coach Mel Tjeerdsma said. "Watch Winona first and you will see what their real speed is. You start watching them later and it is a lot different."
Well, nobody will be running fast, except to run indoors when Northwest, 12-1, takes on Minnesota Duluth, 13-0, at 5 p.m. Saturday at James A. Malosky Stadium.
The weather forecast is frightful. A winter storm warning is in effect from 6 p.m. Friday through 6 a.m. Sunday. The city is expecting 5 to 9 inches of snow and temperatures Saturday night are supposed to dip to 7 to 12 degrees below zero.
It's cold and windy in Maryville, Mo., in December, but nothing like that.
But some of the Bearcats will be warmed by the fact they get another chance at Minnesota Duluth. They felt they let a national championship slip away when the Bulldogs beat the Bearcats21-14 in the 2008 championship game.
Senior defensive end Shayne Shade was one of those players.
"I was heartbroken. I felt like we came in big headed," Shade said. "They are the team that beat us the worst in the national championship game.
"I'm glad I get another chance at them."
Players who weren't here know the details of how the Bearcats lost.
"Hearing what the team said and how they overlooked these guys, I think we look forward to the challenge," said senior defensive lineman Roberto Davis. "It is two years later, but we get to replay the team that our seniors lost to two years ago.
"It will be a good match-up."
In Tjeerdsma's eyes, it's not about revenge.
"I'm not a big person on revenge," Tjeerdsma said. "I think we will be more prepared this year. I felt like two years ago we underestimated them a lot. I guarantee we will not underestimate them this year."
The Bearcats are going into the game fully knowing what Minnesota Duluth plans to do when it has the ball. The Bulldogs will run, run and run. And after that, they will run some more.
In their 24-13 quarterfinal victory against Augustana (S.D.), the Bulldogs ran the ball 61 times for 247 yards. The Bulldogs threw the ball only nine times. They also stopped the run, holding Augustana to 50 yards in 25 carries.
The offensive attack the Bearcats are facing is in sharp contrast to what they dealt with last week in their 37-20 quarterfinal victory over Central Missouri. The Mules passed the ball 56 times and ran 22 times.
"All you have to do is plug in the film and watch them," Davis said. "They are a hard-nosed team. Their running backs get 5 yards a carry every time. We've got to be able to handle the run and stop the backs from making positive yards.
"Playing a team like Central, who passes the ball, you have to worry about getting to the quarterback. You can play a lot looser. Playing a team that runs the ball down hill, you got to be more physical. It's a different type of physical game.
"After this game everybody will feel the aftermath of it. There is no doubt about it."
Beginning in the second half of their first round game against Missouri Western, the Bearcats have been playing at a championship level. They overcame a 17-0 halftime deficit and beat the Griffons 28-24.
They then went on the road and beat Texas A&M-Kingsville 35-31 in front of 14,000 fans in the second round.
"Maybe it was the realization at halftime of the Western game that if they didn't change things their career was over for the seniors and the season would be over for everybody," Tjeerdsma said. "That was part of it.
"The experience in the second half against Western felt good. We come back and play four quarters against Kingsville and saw how good it felt. We really felt good after Central. It really feels good to play that way."
From all indications, the Bearcats are ready to play another four quarters at Duluth. So bring on the cold and the snow, the green machine is ready to plow through it to clear the path to Florence, Ala., site of the championship game.
The Bearcats have made an unprecedented five straight trips to the title game. They know what it takes to get there.
"Our kids have enough experience in the playoffs to know you have to play better," Tjeerdsma said. "Every team you play is not only going to give you their best shot, they are good teams."
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