Dec. 3, 2005
Football Advances to NCAA Championship with 25-24 Win Over North Alabama
FLORENCE, Ala. - Northwest Missouri State football is back in the NCAA Division II National Championship thanks to a 25-24 come-from-behind win over North Alabama in the National Semifinals this afternoon at Braly Municipal Stadium. Freshman redshirt wide receiver Rapheal Robinson caught his first career touchdown from three-yard outs from senior quarterback Josh Lamberson with :23 seconds remaining in the left corner and sent Northwest to its third title game in school history. The Bearcats won the trophy in 1998and 1999.
Northwest improves to 11-3 and will play Grand Valley State (12-0) on Saturday, Dec. 10 in the Championship. GVSU took down East Stroudsburg 55-20 in the other Semifinal game this afternoon. The title game will be televised live on ESPN with kick-off at 3 p.m. from Florence, Ala.
North Alabama, national winners from 1993-95, ends its season at 11-3.
With the road playoff win, Northwest becomes the first team in NCAA Division II history to go 4-0 on the road in the postseason. In the first meeting between the two schools, there were seven lead changes with six of them coming in the second half.
"I guess the magic is still here down in that North end zone for us," said head coach Mel Tjeerdsma
referring to the 2-point conversion at that spot in the end zone in the 1999 Championship which pushed the game into overtime in the 58-52 four overtime win. "We have had some great catches down there and we got another one today, thanks to Rapheal and the great pass."
Taking the ball first, Northwest was forced to punt after three plays. North Alabama took over at the
Northwest 49-yard line and moved to the one-yard line. A plunge by UNA quarterback A.J. Milwee was halted on a fourth-and-inches play as Northwest took over deep inside its own territory. A key play during that drive was when the Lions connected on a 38-yard field goal attempt but Northwest was whistled for a personal foul and gave UNA a first-down.
Northwest trailed for the first time in the postseason as Yuta Fukuda nailed a 20-yard field goal with 9:01
left in the second to give UNA a 3-0 lead. The UNA drive covered 75 yards on 16 plays including a
Freshman placekicker Tommy Frevert tried to tie the game up in the second frame but his 35-yarder sailed wide left. On the ensuing drive, Fukuda copied Frevert with a miss wide-left on a 26-yard attempt with 2:06 left before the half. North Alabama took a 3-0 lead at intermission.
In the first half, both teams combined for five drives of 10 or more plays. UNA did not punt at all in the
first 30 minutes as the hosts totaled 46 plays from scrimmage and 224 total yards. Northwest had just 21 plays for 82 yards.
Out of the locker room, junior defensive back Tyler Martin blocked a UNA punt which gave Northwest the
ball at the Lion 22-yard line. On the fifth play of that drive, senior quarterback Josh Lamberson found
senior wide receiver Andre Rector in the corner of the end zone to stake Northwest to a 7-3 lead. That score covered 11 yards. Forcing UNA into its second punt of the game, the Bearcats started at their own 20 before Lamberson was sacked and coughed up the ball. UNA's Doug Waller picked up the fumble and ran in from 11 yards out midway through the third quarter. At that point, UNA led 10-7.
Sophomore running back Xavier Omon made sure the UNA lead was short-lived with a 67-yard touchdown sprint with 6:48 in the third. It was his school playoff record eighth touchdown of his career. Down 14-10,
North Alabama picked off a Lamberson pass and three plays later, UNA took back the lead at 17-14.
After a 27-yard field goal by Frevert early in the fourth tied the score at 17-17, UNA Harlon Hill
semifinalist Anthony Merritt took a reverse and weaved his way 17 yards with 8:36 remaining. The Lions led 24-17 at that point.
The Northwest offense could not move the ball after the Lions scored, punting the ball after three plays.
Senior Mitch Herring punted to the UNA six-yard line, good for 56 yards. The poor field position for the
Lions proved pivotal when junior defensive tackle Kyle Kaiser wrapped up Lion quarterback Vinnie Saylor in the end zone on the Lions first play from scrimmage. The safety brought Northwest within five points at
24-19 with 6:43 left.
Taking over at the UNA 35-yard line, the Bearcats got to the 10 before cornerback Blake Farris picked up his 10th interception of the season in the end zone. The pick was Lamberson's second of the game. Starting at the 20-yard line, UNA rushed the ball twice before a eight-yard completion pushed the ball to the 29. On fourth and inches, the Lions lined up for a potential sneak but instead tried to get Northwest to jump offsides. The Bearcat defense froze and UNA punter Lyle Atkinson got off just a 22-yard punt.
The game-winning drive started at the Northwest 49 with 1:52 left. With no timeouts, Lamberson engineered a six-play march going five-of-six in passing. The big strike was a 25-yard spiral to Rector where Northwest had it at the three-yard line. One play later, Robinson nabbed his only catch of the day.
Senior defensive end Dave Tollefson set the season best for sacks with one in the waning seconds of the
game to halt all hopes of a Lion win. On the first play after Robinson's catch, Tollefson took down
Saylor in the backfield, which gave him 12.5 sacks on the year.
After throwing for 245 yards on 25-of-40 passing with two touchdowns, Lamberson set the school's career mark with 7,749 yards of total offense. He now holds three career records and is just two touchdowns shy of 66 set by Chris Greisen.
Omon finished with 101 yards on 16 carries and one score. He set the single-season rushing mark with
1,580 yards, bettering his previous high of 1,575 set in 2004. It was his fifth straight 100-yard rushing
game. Rector went for 108 yards on eight catches becoming the top receiver at Northwest in yards
(1,255) and catches (92) in a single-season. It was the fourth time this season the duo has each gone over 100 yards in a game - Northwest is now 4-0 when that accomplishment occurs.
Kaiser led the defensive unit with a career-best nine tackles including the safety in the end zone in the
fourth quarter. Senior Heath Finch had eight stops along with junior safety Brandon Pratt and junior
defensive end Ryan Waters.
North Alabama held a 3-1 advantage in the turnover column.
UNA's Saylor was 29-of-41 for 248 yards and one score but was just 10-of-15 and 83 yards in the second half with one interception. Merritt caught seven balls for 73 yards and Jaron Fountain was the top rusher with 38 yards on four carries.
Northwest fans will be able to order tickets beginning at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the Northwest Student Services Desk in the Administration Building. Also, travel package information will be available at that time. Please stop by the Administration Building or call (660) 562-1212 for tickets or travel information. The deadline for this information is Noon on Wednesday.
NOTES: Northwest moves to 16-7 all-time in NCAA Division II playoff history including 6-4 on the road
… Under coach Tjeerdsma, Northwest is 2-0 against Gulf South Conference teams … North Alabama drops to 22-8 in its playoff history with a 18-4 home record - the playoff wins is second-most all-time in Division II … Senior Mitch Herring, a reserve at running back, totaled four punts in the game for an average of 44.8 - those punts were the first of his career … The blocked punt by Tyler Martin was the first since Dave Tollefson notched one against Missouri Western (Sept. 17) … The first interception thrown by Josh Lamberson in the third quarter was his first since the Southwest Baptist game (Nov. 5) … In his streak of five straight 100-yard rushing games, Xavier Omon has averaged 140.5 yards … Andre Rector had his sixth 100-yard receiving game of the season … Dave Tollefson is just .5 sacks shy of the career record of 21.5 set by Erik Peterson from 1989-91 … Josh Lamberson needs 144 more passing yards to take over the top mark for yards in a single-season … Trailing 3-0 in the first quarter, it was the first deficit for Northwest since getting down early in the first quarter against Pittsburg State five weeks ago (Oct. 29) … Losing 3-1 in turnovers, it was the first occurrence since Pittsburg State in the Fall Classic at Arrowhead IV
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