Nov. 19, 2011
Like Déjà vu, 'Cats rally to knock off Griffons 35-29
By David Boyce
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – For the second straight season, Northwest Missouri State delivered a painful playoff lesson to its archrival Missouri Western.
When the Bearcats are hanging on, clinging for their playoff life, you better deliver the knockout blow or suffer the consequences.
Northwest spotted Western 16 points 4 minutes into the game and went into halftime trailing by 15.
Despite the poor play in the first half, a sputtering offense and three, 50-plus yard field goals into a gusty, swirling wind by Greg Zuerlein, the Bearcats overcame it all.
Northwest played near-perfect football in the second half and came away with a 35-29 victory Saturday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs at Spratt Stadium.
A year ago in the first round, Northwest also overcame a first half, double-digit deficit against Western to win.
“We came out and said we wouldn’t be beat,” said Northwest sophomore running back James Franklin, who had touchdown runs of 35 yards and 20 yards in the third quarter.
“This was our game, our revenge. This is what we had in mind when we came out in the second half.”
Over the last 16 years, Northwest has played some amazing playoff games in route to three National Championships and seven appearances in the title game.
This incredible come back on a breezy Saturday afternoon ranks with the best of them.
“What a football game today,” Northwest coach Adam Dorrel said. “The effort both teams gave today is what makes playoff football special.
“I’m very proud of our kids. To have a first quarter like we had, and we did not quit. We were resilient. I’m so proud of our defense. They were really flying around out there.”
The game-deciding play occurred with 8:01 left in the game. Northwest was deflated after missing a 26-yard field goal that would have given the Bearcats a 1-point lead.
Dorrel immediately concerned himself with what the Bearcats were going to do when they got the ball back. He knew the defense was going to stop Western.
Before Dorrel could really do anything, he saw freshman defensive lineman Matt Longacre scoop up a fumble and run 8 yards into the end zone.
“I never scored a touchdown in my life playing football,” Longacre said. “I saw that ball. We were down. I picked it up and ran as fast as I could. The ball was not coming out. We were going to get that score. It was big.”
The two-point conversion put Northwest ahead 35-29. The way the Bearcats were playing on defense, the six-point cushion was enough.
In the Northwest football history book, Longacre’s touchdown will go down as the play that clinched the game and pushed the Bearcats into a second round match-up at No. 1 seed Midwestern State next Saturday.
The Northwest players, coaches and fans know the real reason why the Bearcats are moving on. It is the family atmosphere in the locker room.
Despite two interceptions early in the first quarter, sophomore quarterback Trevor Adams knew he had the backing of his teammates. He also knew the Bearcats gave everything in practice and on the field on Saturday to win.
“We are just so blessed and I’m so blessed to be out there with the team,” Adams said. “The thing is we put so much in this week in preparation, and not just this week, but every week.
“It’s such a great feeling when it pays off. We knew we put in as much as we could. We knew whatever the outcome we were going to be okay with it. For me as a player, that is huge. It’s an awesome feeling to get that win.”
Belief in each other really showed in the third quarter. When it looked like the momentum swung in Northwest’s favor when it scored the first touchdown of the third quarter, Western quickly grabbed it back.
The Griffon went 80 yards in nine plays and scored on a 38 yard run by Derek Libby that increased Western’s lead to 29-14.
“We know we have to change the momentum of a game at one point or another,” Northwest junior running back Jordan Simmons said.
“It’s like a seesaw battle. You will have to change the momentum multiple times.”
The Bearcats first gained new life early in the third quarter when they stopped a fake punt and got the ball at Western’s 46. Four plays later, Franklin broke off a 35-yard touchdown run. Northwest trailed 22-14 with 12:18 left in the third quarter.
“We keep our composure,” Simmons said. “We’ve been in these situations before. We learn from our mistakes.”
With so much time left in the second half, Northwest was lucky to be down eight points based on the way it played in the first half.
The first 4 minutes of the game was probably the worst stretch of football the Bearcats have ever played in the Division II playoffs.
On the first play from scrimmage, Northwest tried a lateral that turned into a fumble. Western recovered and raced to the 1. Travis Partridge scored on the next play.
The miscue was only beginning for the Bearcats. In their next drive, Adams threw an interception.
Although the defense held strong for Northwest, the Bearcats once again learned there is no defense Zuerlein. He booted a 58-yard field goal.
As bad as that was, the worst was yet to come.
It came in the next drive for Northwest.
Shane Simpson picked off a pass and 55 yards later he was in the end zone. The shocking thing was Zuerlein missed the extra point.
Still, Northwest was looking at a 16-0 deficit and 11:23 remained in the first half.
Facing a two-touchdown deficit, the Bearcats went 80 yards in three plays and scored on a 51-yard touchdown pass from Adams to David Mosley with 10:33 left in the first quarter.
Northwest, though, didn’t score again in the first half. The defense, though, never lost faith in Adams or the offense. Northwest shutdown Western, holding the Griffons to less than 100 yards of offense in the first half.
“We went up to the offense and said we are going to keep playing for you,” said Northwest senior defensive tackle Josh Lorenson. “There were so many games when we were having trouble stopping teams and our offense put points on the board. It was our turn.
“It’s that thing where you play for me and I will play for you and we are going to go to the end together no matter how it turns out.”
The togetherness made the finish another Northwest playoff beauty.
I want to thank Missouri Western offensive line coach Todd Throckmorton. In my excitement to get from the football stadium to the basketball arena to cover the men’s basketball game, I hit a curb and blew out a tire.
I was helpless in trying to change my tire. Throckmorton stopped and changed the tire for me. It took him more than a half hour to do it.
Throckmorton refused to take money from me. He gave me directions to Firestone and 20 minutes later, he stopped by and made sure I made it there safely.
By the way, I was wearing my Northwest shirt.
His act once again proved to me that a game is fun to watch, play or coach, but human kindness is far more meaningful.
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