Aug. 27, 2009
Northwest Takes on Abilene Christian in Opener
MARYVILLE, Mo.-Northwest Missouri State makes its 2009 debut in the same fashion it did in 2008 - with a top-10 matchup against Abilene Christian. The teams play the second game of a home-and-home contract at 7 p.m. tonight at Shotwell Stadium in Abilene, Texas. The game will be televised nationally on CBS College Sports Network.
Tonight marks the third meeting between the two in-region foes within a calendar year. It's also the rubber match as the teams split two games in 2008. Abilene Christian won last year's opener in Missouri, 44-27, ending the Bearcats' 17-game home win streak. Northwest ended the Wildcats' eight-game home win streak and their season with a 45-36 win in an NCAA quarterfinal match at Shotwell Stadium.
Tonight's game is the first matchup of top five teams at any level of college football this season. Northwest is preseason No. 2 and Abilene Christian is No. 5.
The Bearcats return three All-Americans in running back LaRon Council, defensive end Sean Paddock and safety Myles Burnsides, last year's national defensive player of the year. Northwest also returns its top 11 tacklers from 2008 and from a defense that's led the MIAA in total defense twice in the last three years.
Offensively, the team hands the reigns to junior signal caller Blake Bolles, who thrived in his back up role last season. Bolles played in all 15 games last year and quarterbacked 33 drives, 18 of which resulted in touchdowns. He led two touchdown drives in last year's playoff win against Abilene Christian, including a 98-yard touchdown drive which he capped with a 14-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
Bolles has passed for seven touchdowns and ran for seven more in 20 collegiate games. He is yet to commit a turnover.
Council will try to duplicate his 1,700-plus yards rushing and 36 total touchdowns he posted last season, but behind a revamped offensive line that will feature four new starters. Jason Wiseman, who started all 15 games last year, returns at right tackle.
Like Northwest, Abilene Christian has many new faces on the offensive side of the ball. The Wildcats lost their All-America quarterback, running back and wide receiver. In their place are sophomore Zach Stewart at quarterback, transfers Justin Johnson, Daryl Richardson and Reggie Brown at running back and Edmund Gates at wide out.
Stewart started two games and played in 11 last season. He passed for 666 yards and five touchdowns against one interception while completing nearly 68 percent of his throws. Johnson, a sophomore transfer from Oklahoma, is expected to get the first carries tonight. Gates caught 31 passes for 716 yards. His eight touchdowns ranked second on the team.
Abilene Christian retains much of a 2008 defense that ranked fifth in the Lone Star Conference. The Wildcats top two tackles are gone, but linebackers Fred Thompson (56 tackles), Eric Edwards (56 tackles) and Bryson Lewis (55 tackles) return as does safety Tony Harp (55 tackles).
Northwest passed for 649 yards and five touchdowns in its two games against Abilene Christian last season. The Bearcats scored a program-record 600 points in 2008. Northwest's 40-point average ranked eighth in the nation.
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Media Relations Department, Northwest Athletics
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