Oct. 24, 2008
Bearcats, Ichabods Tangle in Topeka
MARYVILLE, Mo.-A pair of win streaks will be put on the line Saturday when No. 3 Northwest Missouri State takes on Washburn at Yager Stadium in Topeka, Kan.
The Bearcats (7-1, 6-0 MIAA) have won seven in a row after dropping its season opener to Abilene Christian. The Ichabods (6-2, 4-2) have won four in a row after losing in back-to-back weeks against Fort Hays State and Central Missouri to begin the conference season.
Northwest has won 13 of its last 14 games against Washburn and hasn't lost in Topeka since 1994. The Bearcats are averaging more than 40 points in conference play and have allowed a total of 30 points in their last five games. In conference games only, Northwest leads the league in 14 of the 30 statistical categories released by the MIAA.
Washburn's defense has been the strength of the Ichabods for much of 2008 and may be the best the Bearcats will have faced up to this point in the season. With the exception of a 43-point outburst by Central Missouri, no MIAA team has posted more than 17 points against the Ichabods.
Inconsistency on offense has plagued Washburn for much of this season, but the unit has seen significant improvement in the last few weeks. Running back Justin Cooper has averaged more than five yards per carry and topped the 100-yard mark in each of his last two games. Freshman Dane Simoneau has brought some stability to the quarterback position the last two weeks. He passed for 233 yards and two scores in last weekend's 31-17 win at Truman.
Another good sign is the improving health of do-everything back Brandon Walker, who had 115 yards receiving and 42 rushing with two touchdowns against Northwest last season. Walker missed the Emporia State game two weeks ago when the Ichabods mustered 14 points. He played last weekend and had one catch for 40 yards.
With three weeks to play in the regular season, both teams likely view Saturday's game as a must-win, but for different reasons.
Washburn, in all likelihood, needs wins against Northwest, Pittsburg State (7-1) and Nebraska-Omaha (4-3) in its final three weeks to make a return trip to the postseason. The Ichabods are ranked 10th in the latest regional rankings released by the NCAA with the top six listed at the end of the year to qualify for postseason play.
Northwest is number two in the regional rankings (behind before-mentioned Abilene Christian) and would receive a first-round bye and a home game in round two if the playoffs started today. A win against Washburn leaves Emporia State (3-5) and Missouri Southern (4-4) as teams with a chance to prevent that scenario from taking shape.
What To Watch For:
Northwest's "O" vs. Washburn's "D" - The best offense in the MIAA will go heads up with the league's best defense Saturday. Northwest has scored touchdowns on 55 percent of its offensive possessions in conference play (34 TDs on 62 drives). Washburn's defense has allowed 12 touchdown drives in six conference games.
Northwest "D-line" vs. Washburn's "O-line" - Expect the Bearcats to test the young quarterback early and often. Simoneau will be making his third-collegiate start against a team with a league-best 23 sacks this season. Establishing the run game will be essential for the Ichabods Saturday. Unfortunately, the Bearcats lead the league and rank 24th nationally in run defense (96.9 ypg). Included in those numbers are two games against option-heavy teams Nebraska-Omaha and Pittsburg State.
Who To Watch For:
Washburn linebacker Zach Watkins (#43), a first-team all-MIAA pick who leads the league with five interceptions and ranks fourth with 74 tackles. Watkins had nine tackles and forced and recovered a fumble last year against Northwest.
Washburn running back Brandon Walker (#18), who leads the Ichabods with 400 yards rushing and is third on the team with 147 yards receiving. He might be the best playmaker on the field Saturday.
Northwest defensive linemen Sean Paddock (#97), Josh Lorenson (#99) and Tyler Roach (#91), who have combined for more sacks (11.5) than the Bearcats' eight opponents combined (9). Three teams in the MIAA have 12 total sacks on the year while a fourth has 13.
Northwest running back LaRon Council (#27), who should have the freshest legs on the field Saturday. Council carried seven times and scored two touchdowns in limited time against Fort Hays State last weekend. Despite the limited opportunities, Council still ranks third in the MIAA in rushing and leads the nation with 20 touchdowns this season.
News and Notes:
Northwest has won 25 consecutive MIAA games dating back to the 2005 Fall Classic at Arrowhead Stadium … The Bearcats have won 18 consecutive road games in MIAA play dating back to 2003 … Northwest wide receiver Kendall Wright needs 25 yards to become the fifth player in Northwest history with 3,000 yards receiving … Northwest leads the nation in third-down percentage, converting 57-of-99 attempts on the year (57.6)
For more information, please contact:
Phillip Dowden, Media Relations/Sports Information
email@example.com | 660.562.1118 | Fax: 660.562.1582
Lamkin Activity Center | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468