Aug. 22, 2007
Second-Ranked Bearcats Host Arkansas Tech In Opener
Coming off a second straight championship game appearance, the Northwest Missouri State football team welcomes back Arkansas Tech to Bearcat Stadium for the 2007 season opener. Game time is Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Northwest beat Arkansas Tech 31-14 in the season opener of the 1999 season. Back then, a night game on campus wasn't possible, the field wasn't named after its head coach and required water and natural sunlight to play on.
Thursday will be Northwest's first regular season home night game since Oct. 1, 1977, when the Bearcats hosted another team from the state of Arkansas in Central Arkansas. The starting Northwest quarterback in that contest was Kirk Mathews, father of current starting quarterback, Josh Mathews.
The younger Mathews will be the first to play on the new field turf, set to be named Mel Tjeersdma Field in a pregame ceremony. Tjeerdsma begins his 14th season at Northwest as the Bearcats all-time winningest football coach. He has 132 wins at Northwest and is nine shy of 200 collegiate victories.
Aiding Josh Mathews and the Northwest offense is 2006 Harlon Hill regional finalist Xavier Omon, who enters his senior season as the fifth-leading rusher in MIAA history. His 4,736 rushing yards and 60 touchdowns are school records. His is tied for 10th on the MIAA's all-time scoring list.
Omon will be running behind a veteran offensive line led by preseason All-American left tackle Reid Kirby. Left guard Tom Pestock and center Matt Nelson started all 15 games for Northwest last season. Right guard Jeremy Davis and right tackle Kyle Dunn played in 13 and 15 games, respectively.
The Bearcat defense held opponents to 11.5 points per game in 2006, second-best in Division-II. Five starters return including captains Jared Erspamer at linebacker and Dallas Flynn on the defensive line. Both were second-team all-conference selections a year ago.
Two of the new faces on the starting defense began their careers in the Big 12. Senior linebacker Matt Robertson was Iowa State's leading tackler in 2005. Cornerback Chris LeFlore began his career at Nebraska, but had two interceptions and four pass break-ups for Northwest in a reserve role last season.
About Arkansas Tech: The Wonder Boys' three losses in 2006 were to the third-, fifth- and 16th-ranked teams on consecutive weeks. Tech rebounded to win its final four games to finish with a 7-3 record.
Tech's head coach, Steve Mullins, was an offensive coordinator for Northwest during the 1988-89 seasons under coach Bud Elliott. He's in his 11th season with the Wonder Boys and has seven or more wins in each of the last three seasons.
Tech's starting quarterback, junior Cole Barthel, was the 71st overall pick in the 2001 Major League Draft by the Atlanta Braves. He split time with Justin Ray as the signal caller last season, but Ray has since been moved to wide receiver to make use of his athleticism. Ray ran and threw for over 600 yards last season.
Senior tailback R.J. Vanhook ran for over 500 yards a year ago, but isn't found on the Wonder Boys' depth chart despite being named a first-team All-Gulf South Conference tailback in 2006. Instead Tim Childress, who ran for 80 yards in his freshman season, is listed as the starter.
The team's defense returns six starters including leading tackler Zach Noel. Linebacker Cedric Cursh, who sat out the past two seasons with some off-the-field legal issues, also returns in 2007. Cursh was the 2004 GSC Defensive Player of the Year and an AP Little All-American. He had 95 tackles and nine sacks that season.
New Coordinators For Tech: The Wonder Boys replaced both offensive and defensive coordinators during the offseason. Mullins promoted Benyard Jones to defensive coordinator and brought in 18-year coaching veteran Scott Preston to manage the offense. Preston spent the 2000-03 seasons as the offensive coordinator at Illinois State University.
Rankings: Northwest is the preseason No. 2 team in the nation in all four preseason publications behind two-time defending champion Grand Valley State. Arkansas Tech is receiving votes in the AFCA Coaches' Poll.
Rule Changes: The NCAA has rescinded its rule on starting the clock once the ball is put in play following a change of possession. That rule shortened games by an average of 14 plays, but led to problems on the field. Trailing offenses sprinted onto the field to preserve precious seconds, while teams with the lead could allow over 20 seconds to pass without having to snap the ball.
Teams will kickoff from the 30-yard line as opposed to the 35, ensuring less touchbacks in hopes of speeding up the game. The clock will start once the receiving team touches the ball and not when the kicking team kicks it.
Season Openers: Northwest is 9-4 in season openers under Tjeerdsma. Northwest has won seven straight season openers at Bearcat Stadium dating back to 1994.
Win Streaks: The Bearcats have won 10 straight games at Bearcat Stadium and 11 straight regular season games dating back to 2005.
Early Start: Aug. 23 is the earliest start date for Northwest in program history.
For more information, please contact:
Phillip Dowden, Media Relations/Sports Information
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