Oct. 1, 2010
Finding a crease against Western
By David Boyce
Each time Northwest Missouri State sophomore running back Billy Creason drives home to Grain Valley, he sees it.
The much ballyhooed indoor facility that the Kansas City Chiefs use during their summer training camp is the new jewel for Missouri Western's football program.
It's easy to spot when driving on I-29 through St. Joseph, Mo. It also could add a little more fuel to an already heated rivalry.
"My head usually does turn whenever I pass that. I can't wait to play them," Creason said.
"On my scale, Mo. West is No. 1 (rivalry). I believe they are our biggest rival because they are so close. Plus, I have to drive through their city every time I go home to Grain Valley. I wouldn't like to drive through that city with a loss, knowing they beat us."
Missouri Western's football program has a new toy that might be the envy of some of the teams in the MIAA.
But the training facility at Northwest is good enough to produce five straight trips to the NCAA Division II championship game, a national title last season and a 39-game MIAA winning streak.
When Northwest and the Missouri Western meet 2:20 p.m. Saturday at Bearcat Stadium in a game that will be televised on the MIAA Network, players and fans from both schools will have something to boast about.
From all indications, it could be one of the most entertaining games of the MIAA schedule. Missouri Western enters with a 4-0 overall record and 2-0 in conference. Northwest is 2-1 and 2-0 and the reigning king of the MIAA.
"There's no words to really explain how pumped up you get. I'm already thinking about it now and we still have a ways to go until Saturday," Creason said Monday evening. "It's hard not to stay pumped up all the time. I'm always thinking about it."
Last year 10,000 fans journeyed to Spratt Stadium and watched the Bearcats win another classic, beating Missouri Western 49-35.
"It was 21-21 at halftime and we were up 21-7 with 5 minutes to go before halftime and they got two quick touchdowns to tie it up," Northwest coach Mel Tjeerdsma said. "I felt they had all the momentum going into halftime. Our defense got a quick stop to start the third quarter and we just dominated. LaRon (Council) had an unbelievable second half and Jake (Soy) and Blake (Bolles) had a pretty good time, too."
Lately, the contest has been a high-scoring shootout. In 2008, Northwest won 42-35 and in 2007 the Bearcats beat the Griffons 44-20.
Northwest has won the last six meetings. The last time the Bearcats lost to Missouri Western was 2003 when it took overtime for the Griffons to prevail 30-27.
The Bearcats simply reload with players who understand what it takes to win big games.
Now, Creason is one of those players stepping into that role. He's coming off his best game as a Bearcat. Last week he rushed for a career-high 169 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-10 victory at Truman.
"It felt good to show what we could do as an offense on the ground and not just in the air. It's good to show we could have another threat," Creason said.
"Offensively, we are just starting to click. You could see that in the UNO game. We just got in a rhythm and everybody got loose and everybody started having fun and we were doing what we do out there."
Creason is learning to have fun in a football game. Obviously, he must have felt some pressure replacing Council, who was the MIAA offensive player of the year last season.
He watched Council make one important run after another.
"He was a workhorse back there," Creason said. "I took notes mentally in my head, the way he cut, how fast he planted his feet and how he read holes. I tried to mimic everything LaRon did because he was such a good football player."
According to Tjeerdsma, Creason is a different type of runner than Council.
"LaRon was real patient. He trusted his eyes and he trusted his judgment. He gave the offensive line a chance to make the blocks. He didn't hurry things," Tjeerdsma said.
"Billy is learning that. Billy probably has a little more explosion than LaRon. He learned to have fun playing the game. That was the thing about LaRon, especially the last two years. He really enjoyed every day in practice."
Tjeerdsma could see signs of Creason breaking loose in the second game of the season at Nebraska-Omaha. He rushed for 54 yards in 7 carries.
"He ran a lot more relaxed and ran more up field," Tjeerdsma said. "That's the way he was at Truman. He was one cut and go. He really didn't hesitate. He made a good decision and stuck with it. That's the type of runner he is. It was good to see him really open up."
It's fairly certain that Missouri Western's savvy coaching staff has taken notice of what Creason is capable of doing and will have a plan to stop him.
There will be many little games within this game. It's one of the things that makes football so much fun, especially rivalry games in which two schools are so close and know each other so well.
"It's always a big game when we play Missouri Western," Tjeerdsma said. "The way we look at it is this is the next step and we got a lot of steps to go in the MIAA. That's the only way we've ever approached it here.
"We've been through a lot of big games and the seniors, especially, have played in a lot of big games so they know what it is all about. I really trust them. They will be ready to play and I don't think they will be too high."
The anticipation is just about over. Kickoff is only a day away.
"I'm excited," Creason said. "This is a fun one."
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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