Dec. 2, 2011
Bearcats primed for trip to 'The Jungle'
By David Boyce
On a cool Wednesday evening, a snapshot of Northwest Missouri State athletics at its best developed.
As basketball fans filed into Bearcat Arena for Northwest men and women’s basketball teams’ MIAA opener, the football team was practicing under the lights at Bearcat Stadium.
Wispy white clouds turned to shades of red and yellow as the sun set. Practice had the energy of the first day of fall camp when optimism runs high.
The only element missing was a Hollywood movie crew filming the story of this Division II football program nestled in the Northwest corner of Missouri that overcomes double-digit deficits in the playoff s.
The Bearcats, after coming off their second straight incredible road comeback playoff victory, were preparing Wednesday evening for Saturday’s NCAA Division II Quarterfinals at Pittsburg State.
To get his team accustomed to the loud atmosphere at Carnie Smith Stadium, Northwest coach Adam Dorrel had music blaring through the sound system.
Songs ranged from hip hop to rock. One tune stood out: Guns N Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.”
Longtime followers of Bearcat football know that is the signature song at Pittsburg State football games. Northwest coaches know it, also.
“If anything it gets us fired up,” senior wide receiver Taylor Pierce said of the song. “We are going into the jungle.”
The 2011 Bearcats will get their first taste of it at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“I can’t wait,” Northwest junior strong safety Derrick Hightower said. “To play somewhere in which you never played before, you are excited to go there. I hear it is a good atmosphere.”
Because of the Fall Classic at Arrowhead, the Bearcats have not played in Pittsburg, Kan., since 2005 when they beat the Gorillas 21-10 in the Division II Quarterfinals.
It is the fourth time Northwest has faced the Gorillas in the Division II playoffs. The Bearcats are 2-2 against their respected rivals in the playoffs.
As times change, things remain the same. History repeats itself. Many of those sentiments have come to the forefront with this rematch between two powerhouse Division II programs.
In 2005, Northwest lost to Pittsburg State in the regular season. This year, the Bearcats lost a heartbreaker to the Gorillas, falling 38-35.
The Northwest players aren’t viewing this game as an opportunity to seek revenge.
“We look at this game like any other game,” Pierce said. “We don’t look at this game that we lost to them. It’s a game we have to prepare for as the biggest game of the year.”
Another similarity to 2005 is both teams lost two conference games and were low seeds in the playoffs. In 2005, the Bearcats were seeded No. 6. This year they entered the playoffs as the 5th seed.
It means that most, if not all their playoff games, are on the road. It only makes sense that the 2011 Bearcats are using the tag created by the 2005 Bearcats: “Road Dogs.”
“We adopted the Road Dogs’ theme of being tough, being gritty,” Pierce said. “It doesn’t matter where we go; we are going to play hard.”
The 2011 Bearcats are making a name from themselves and creating lasting moments that future teams will discuss.
For players like Hightower, Pierce and wide receiver David Mosley, they are now making plays in playoff games instead of watching from the sidelines.
“This is my first time making in the playoffs,” Mosley said. “I made it last year, but to actually play is a great accomplishment. I love it.”
Two weeks ago, Mosley provided a first-half spark when the Bearcats needed it when he caught a 51-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter after Northwest fell behind 16-0 to Missouri Western.
Last week, Mosley, Pierce and Tyler Shaw all caught passes in a game in which Northwest erased 28-10 second quarter deficit against No. 1 seed Midwestern State and won 38-31 in overtime.
“I’ve always had faith,” Pierce said. “No comebacks we had has really surprised me. Our coaches are so good at game planning that if we go into halftime down, I know our coaches will come up with something to get us back in the game.”
These incredible outcomes leave fans exhilarated and drained after going through 3 hours on an emotional ride in which every play means something.
Imagine how the players feel.
“After the game, are you drained? Yes,” Hightower said. “You sleep on that and then the next day you realize you are fighting again. We are getting a step closer to our goal.”
The players are enjoying the ride.
“It has been a thrill ride, crazy,” Shaw said. “I would not say I’m amazed at the comebacks. It has been a good ride. We have good faith in our team to pull off victories like that.”
Dorrel is thrilled a new group of Bearcats like Hightower and Pierce and many others have worked hard to get an opportunity to play and are making their contributions in playoff games.
“They are reaping the rewards for their years of hard work,” Dorrel said. “They bought into what we’ve been doing. You see them grow as players and individuals and then to see their smiles after the game is something I really enjoy.
Once again, the Bearcats are having a special run in the Division II playoffs. They are going to give everything they have to ensure it continues when they head to the jungle.
“We are taking the same approach for every game and that is to play our best. If we play Bearcat football we will have a great result,” Hightower said.
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