Nov. 17, 2011
Bearcats open playoffs in unfamiliar role
By David Boyce
At first glance, Northwest Missouri State’s first-round opponent in the NCAA Division II football playoffs looks perfect.
The Bearcats get the opportunity to avenge a tough, three-point loss to rival Missouri Western that occurred a mere two weeks ago.
In addition, the Bearcats are returning to the site when they take on the Griffons noon Saturday at Spratt Stadium.
Rematch, revenge, redemption and probably a few other words about this game could be tossed into the thinking of Bearcat fans, players and coaches.
Northwest head coach Adam Dorrel has pushed those thoughts far from his mind and the mentality he is instilling in his players has nothing to do with the 31-28 loss that happened on Nov. 5.
“I’ve meant this from the bottom of my heart,” Dorrel said. “People are going rematch, rematch. I am saying no. This is a playoff game. There are 24 teams left. This is not us against Missouri Western. This is a national playoff game. It is a big difference. I have talked to our kids about that.”
Unlike recent seasons, Northwest needed to go into playoff mode the last week in the regular season. The loss at Western put the Bearcats in that position.
The previous five seasons Northwest raced through the regular season undefeated in MIAA play. The only question during that run was whether the Bearcats would garner one of the top seeds and get at least one home playoff game.
Because of the loss at Western, the Bearcats had to beat Emporia State last week just to get in. Thoughts of playing a home playoff game were pure fantasy.
“It was close this year,” Northwest senior linebacker Chad Kilgore said. “Not that we take it for granted, but it feels like something we should be doing. It is normal for us. If we did not make it, it would be a huge let down for us around here. There are certain expectations you have to live up to.”
Having their backs against the wall, Kilgore said, caused the Bearcats to have their best week of practice a week ago.
The result of those focused workouts was a resounding 62-21 victory over an Emporia State team that had won three straight.
“I was excited because I thought our kids approached it with a great mindset,” Dorrel said. “We talked about it being a playoff game, a must win. Our preparations increased last week. I thought they did a great job of raising their level.”
It gave the younger players a taste of what it takes to win and advance in the playoffs.
“I don’t think they did at first,” Kilgore said. “Now that we are at the end of the season and we are in the playoffs, they do realize what it takes to be successful in the playoffs, especially after the losses. You can’t lie down in the second half.”
Northwest could easily be undefeated and the No. 1 seed in the region if it were not for two poor, second half showings in their two losses, each by three points.
The Bearcats held a comfortable 28-6 halftime lead against Pittsburg State and lost 38-35. They were ahead of Missouri Western 14-13 at halftime and failed to score in the fourth quarter.
“Our two losses were by six points total, but it has definite been a letdown as far as Northwest tradition goes,” Kilgore said. “Maybe that was a wake-up call for us and to get us ready for the playoffs.”
The playoff-seasoned Bearcats know playoff football has intensity far greater than any regular season game against a rival. It’s two teams fighting as hard as possible to prolong the season another week and get a step closer to the ultimate prize of winning a national championship.
For the seniors, it’s a notch higher because 95 to 100 percent of the seniors are playing their last football game ever. Very few Division II football players play professionally.
The fact that Northwest is playing a rival that’s just a 30-minute drive away only adds a little spice to a game that’s already full of flavor.
And for the first time in a while, the Bearcats are not going into the playoffs feeling they have the weight of the world on their shoulders.
“It kind of feels good,” Kilgore said. “The pressure is not really on us. It’s not like we have anything to lose. We are going to fire all of our guns.”
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