Oct. 27, 2012
Defense carries Bearcats to 56-6 rout
By: Steve Wieberg
TOPEKA, Kan. – He grew up watching Northwest Missouri State football, dressed and played for the Bearcats and now has spent 15 years on their sideline as a coach.
Never, Adam Dorrel said, had he seen their defense secondary put in a day like Saturday.
Six different players came up with six interceptions at Washburn, the first a little more than two minutes into the game. Every one led to a touchdown. It turned what could have been a critical test on the road – with the regular season winding down and a playoff berth hanging in the balance – into a relaxed, 56-6 rout of the Ichabods.
The victory extended Northwest’s winning streak to seven, put an exclamation point on a four-week, four-game stretch away from home and fortified the Bearcats’ top-five ranking in the NCAA’s Super Region 3. Looming are showdowns with Emporia State and Missouri Western – both in Bearcat Stadium the next two weeks.
“They’ve got a lot to play for,” Dorrel said, “just like we do.”
Northwest Missouri (8-1) is one of three once-beaten teams atop the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The others: Emporia and Missouri Western.
Western raised eyebrows with a 57-28 beat down of Emporia State on Thursday, rushing for 382 yards. The Bearcats made their own statement two days later, striking hard and often on both sides of the line.
Washburn had won seven of its first eight games in part by taking care of the ball, committing the fewest turnovers – four fumbles and five interceptions – in the MIAA. Northwest’s Clarke Snodgrass was the first to pad those numbers, sniffing out a screen pass by the Ichabods’ Mitch Buhler, stepping in front of the intended receiver and giving the Bearcats the ball at their own 45-yard line just 2:02 into the game.
It took six plays for the offense to capitalize, quarterback Trevor Adams hitting Tyler Shaw with a 31-yard TD pass.
The template was set. The next interception, by the Bearcats’ Travis Manning in the end zone, choked off a threat after Washburn recovered a fumble at the Northwest 6. The following three – by Nate DeJong and Brian Dixon in the second quarter and Collin DeBuysere in the third – set the offense up at the Ichabods’ 22-, 23- and 14-yard lines, respectively.
The payoff each time was a Bearcats TD. They led 14-0 by the opening minutes of the second quarter, 35-0 by halftime and 49-0 before Washburn finally managed to score with 4:09 left in the third quarter.
Sophomore Chet Meneely returned the last of the half-dozen interceptions 14 yards for a touchdown with 1:26 left.
“We got a couple of turnovers,” Dorrel said, “and then it just kept going and going and going. I thought our secondary played a very complete game.
“We’ve got two really good safeties (Snodgrass and Nate DeJong, both fifth-year seniors), and it really starts with them. They’re the information center of our defense. And right now, our coaching staff is putting a lot on their shoulders to get us checked into the proper coverages and things of that nature.”
Said Snodgrass, “Our coaches had a great game plan for us today, a lot of tip(off)s out of their offense that we saw.”
Indeed, the Bearcats seemed prepared for everything that Washburn’s two sophomore quarterbacks – Buhler and Joel Piper – threw at them. Each was picked off three times.
Manning’s interception of Buhler late in the first quarter was pivotal. The score was still 7-0. The Northwest defense had forced a punt but, on the first play from scrimmage, Adams couldn’t connect on an attempted handoff and Washburn’s Alex Dowty recovered the fumble at the Bearcats’ 6-yard line.
The Ichabods went for a quick kill, Buhler throwing into the end zone. But Manning snatched the pass away.
I’m just thinking, ‘My gosh, they score here and the game will be 7-7.’ ” Dorrel said. “Then, the momentum swung and we turned around and picked that football off. After that, I had just a tremendous sense of confidence. . . . I was, like, ‘We’re ready to play. They’re going to pick us up.’ ”
Adams and the offense responded again, moving 80 yards on 11 plays with James Franklin scoring on a seven-yard run to make it 14-0. Some 3½ minutes later, DeJong picked off Piper and returned it 17 yards to the Washburn 22.
Franklin carried three more times, the last five yards for a TD that made it 21-0.
“We feed off the defense,” Franklin said. “If they can make any kind of play – make a stop, make a big hit, an interception – our offense loves to see that. And we like to return the favor.”
The junior running back from Olathe, Kan., continued a late-season surge. His two TDs gave him seven in his last three games against Pittsburg State, Missouri Southern and Washburn. They also gave him a career total of 34, moving him past Derek Lane and teammate Jordan Simmons into fourth place in NMSU history.
Simmons, a senior, ran for his 33rd from one yard out late in the first half.
Adams, meanwhile, extended his own hot streak to five games – dating to his late-September return to the lineup from an ankle injury. He has completed 70.3 percent of his passes for 1,220 yards and 14 TDs in that stretch.
The junior from Odessa, Texas, was 19-for-26 for 216 yards and three TDs Saturday. “I think he’s playing inside himself more,” Dorrel said, “and I think he’s counting on the people around him more.”
Adams and the Bearcats didn’t merely get through what looked to be a challenging October. They crushed it.
The past four weeks took them to Edmond, Okla., and Kansas City, then to Joplin and finally Topeka. They beat Central Oklahoma, Pittsburg State, Missouri Southern and Washburn by an average of almost 37 points.
It was only the fourth time in Northwest’s 96-year football-playing history that it ran that kind of gauntlet – stringing four games away from home – and won them all. The first, in 1984, led to the Bearcats’ first appearance in the Division II playoffs. The next two propelled them to the national championship game.
In 2008, they pulled off the road-trip sweep in September and October and kept winning until running into Minnesota-Duluth in Florence, Ala. In 2005, they rolled through four playoff games on the road en route to a title-game matchup and four-point loss against Grand Valley State.
“We’ve come a long way in those four road games,” Adams said. “I feel like it really helped us find our identity of who we are as a team, knowing we don’t have to be at home to take it to anybody. We can go in anywhere and take care of business.”
The next two weeks, finally, it will be at home.
Steve Wieberg wrapped up a nearly 30-year career with USA TODAY in July. A native Missourian who lives just outside the Kansas City area, he was part of the national newspaper’s original startup staff in 1982 and focused his coverage on college football and basketball and NCAA issues. He also worked eight summer and winter Olympics.
Wieberg is a longtime member of the Football Writers Association of America and an inductee into U.S. Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame. His work has earned more than two dozen national writing awards.
In October 2007, he was named by The Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the “10 Most Powerful People in College Sports.”
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