Nov. 29, 2013
Bearcats, Duluth renew postseason rivalryBy David Boyce | Northwest vs. Minnesota-Duluth | Saturday, Nov. 30, Noon | Bearcat Stadium
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MARYVILLE, Mo. - Fans of old-fashioned, smash-mouth football definitely need to be inside Bearcat Stadium at noon on Saturday for the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Northwest Missouri State, making its 10th straight appearance in the playoffs, takes on playoff nemesis Minnesota Duluth in what figures to be one of the hardest hitting games this season in Division II.
When these two teams last met, the Bulldogs delivered a 17-13 heart-wrenching loss to Northwest in 6-degree temperature in the 2010 Division II semifinals. It ended a run of five straight championship appearances by Northwest and was the last game for legendary coach Mel Tjeerdsma.
Regardless of the weather conditions this season, the sun has been shining brightly on the 2013 Bearcats. They won all 11 regular-season games, many quite handedly. They earned a much-needed, first-round bye.
“I’m very glad we had the week off,” Northwest coach Adam Dorrel said. “We needed it. There were potentially four or five kids in our 52 traveling squad that probably wouldn’t have played and two or three are starters. We needed the time off.”
While the Bearcats were recuperating mentally and physically, Minnesota Duluth prepared for its first-round game and came away with an impressive 55-13 victory at home against Emporia State.
In some ways, the Bulldogs, 11-1, are similar to Northwest. They play great defense and they like to be physical on offense.
Minnesota Duluth runs the ball whenever it can. The Bulldogs ranks eighth in rushing offense, averaging 302.3 yards per game while passing for 141 yards per game, which ranks them 146.
“We worked our hands and our steps, which is very important with a team that run the zone and get people out of their gaps,” said Northwest junior defensive lineman Matt Longacre. Northwest has a more balanced attack, averaging 272 yards per game passing and 209 rushing.
Where the two teams are most similar is on defense. Northwest has surrendered only 16.0 points per game. Minnesota Duluth is gives up 14.8 points per game. Minnesota Duluth ranks 5th in total defense and Northwest is 8th.
“They literally lined up and just got after Emporia physically,” Dorrel said. “It is what they have done all year. They are not going to change who they are. They are a very good football program and very well coached.
“We haven’t seen a team of this nature who is this physical on offense and defense. It is something we have talked a lot about. We have to try to match their physicality.”
It is a challenge the Bearcats are looking forward to. Many have played in these types of games before. They know to react through any adversity that might strike during a game.
Despite the numerous blowouts, the Bearcats have experienced some close games. They needed to come from behind against Central Missouri and Pittsburg State.
“It is very important to be in those situations and come out on top,” Longacre said. “You know what you have to do. You cannot panic. You stay calm in the moment. It is one thing this team is very good at. We stay calm when stuff is not going our way.
“If the offense has a turnover, we look forward to going out there and making that stop.
“We have a lot of older guys on this team who have been in this program for a while and have been in tight games that have gone our way or have not gone our way like last year. We are used to it and know what needs to be done.”
The amazing thing about this year’s team is how they have stayed focused on the opponent they are playing and have not had a letdown. It is rare for a team to go an entire season without coming out flat.
“You start each week new,” Longacre said. “You try to do the same things over and over that you have been doing all season.
“This season we were focused. We knew what we had to do. We knew if we had one slip up, the playoffs would be iffy. We wanted to control our destiny. We were able to get the first-round bye, which is huge when you are trying to make that playoff run the next four weekends.
“It is always a fun experience to be in the playoffs. We are really excited about Saturday.”
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