Nov. 3, 2012
Simmons and Bearcats run past Hornets, 55-10
By: Steve Wieberg
MARYVILLE, Mo. – Northwest Missouri State took care of business Saturday afternoon, rolling past Emporia State 55-10 to extend its winning streak to eight games, move into a tie atop the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association and stay pointed toward the NCAA’s Division II football playoffs.
Buckle up. It sets up a seismic final game of the regular season.
Missouri Western also won impressively Saturday, 56-28 over Washburn, and the Griffons will bus to Maryville for a high-stakes, high-emotion showdown next weekend. They and Northwest share the MIAA lead, both at 8-1 in conference play, and are neck-and-neck in the NCAA’s Super Region 3 rankings.
Northwest Missouri was No. 4 this week, trailing undefeated Henderson (Ark.) State and Minnesota State and once-beaten Harding (Ark.). Western was No. 5.
Six teams in the ultracompetitive region will advance to the playoffs. Maybe the Bearcats or Griffons can afford a second loss, but it would make for a restless day’s wait until the bracket is revealed Nov. 11. The winner almost certainly can count on a first game at home.
“I couldn’t have drawn a better, written a better, story. It’s just something to look forward to,” said Northwest tackle Rod Williams, the only senior starting on the Bearcats’ offensive line. “They (the Griffons) are a great team. They do things on film that you have to be prepared for. Their D-line is probably going to be one of the better ones that we’ve seen all season, if not the best.”
Said Bearcats running back Jordan Simmons, who ignited the rout of Emporia State with an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, “It’s a great way to end our regular season, especially for our seniors. . . . It’s going to be a great matchup.”
Northwest Missouri – back in Bearcat Stadium after playing all of October on the road – looked every bit a contender against Emporia, delighting a Homecoming crowd of 9,137 that included Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. The Bearcats (9-1 overall) won for the 18th consecutive time against the Hornets and 14th time in a row at home.
Simmons’ day only started with the kick return. He also ran for three touchdowns, piled up 225 all-purpose yards and was named the Don Black Homecoming MVP.
James Franklin rushed for a couple of scores. Rover Collin DeBuysere spearheaded a Northwest defense that intercepted three passes, keeping Emporia’s signature passing game in check. And Todd Adolf kicked 30- and 45-yard field goals.
The Bearcats spotted Emporia State an early 3-0 lead, then – starting with Simmons long return – erupted for 48 unanswered points.
They doused the Hornets’ MIAA title hopes and likely their playoff chances. Emporia had fallen 57-28 to Missouri Western a week earlier, and now is 8-2 both overall and in the league.
“We were just ready to play,” Northwest coach Adam Dorrel said. “Our enthusiasm and energy level were really good. That’s to be expected, being on the road for four weeks.”
Emporia’s initial lead lasted just 15 seconds. That’s how long it took to kick to Simmons and for the 5-9, fifth-year senior from Kansas City to bob, weave and sprint all the way to the end zone. It was his second kick return for a touchdown this season and the fifth of his career, the latter padding his MIAA record.
A little more than a minute later, Simmons gathered in an Emporia punt and returned it 16 yards to the Hornets’ 43-yard line. That set up a seven-play drive ending with his one-yard run for a TD.
Simmons added another 1-yard scoring run just before halftime, making it 38-3. And he ran for a three-yard TD in the third quarter. He finished with 90 yards on the ground, another 34 on four pass receptions and the 101 yards in returns.
“I’ve coached football for 15 years, and he’s got a really high football IQ. And his instincts are just really good, really natural,” Dorrel said.
He marveled at the kick return. “I can’t wait to watch it on film,” Dorel said. “It’s like he feels those guys coming. It’s like he’s got rear-view mirrors on his helmet. . . . I don’t know how he does it, but he’s definitely special.”
Of late, so is Northwest’s defensive secondary.
A week earlier, the Bearcats intercepted six passes in a rout of Washburn. They already led Emporia 24-3 when Nate DeJong came up with the first of their three against Hornets quarterback Tyler Eckenrode – extending a remarkable six-week stretch for DeJong. The senior safety now has a pick in each of Northwest’s last six games.
The ’Cats’ offense converted the turnover into a TD to make it 31-3. And it turned subsequent interceptions by cornerback Brian Dixon and DeBuysere into two more scores later in the first half and near the end of the third quarter.
DeBuysere also had one of Northwest’s four quarterback sacks and a total of 2½ tackles for losses.
He and the Bearcats have a Division II-high 24 interceptions on the year.
“We’ve had good schemes from our coaches,” DeBuysere said, “and our D-line is just doing a phenomenal job of getting pressure on the quarterback. I don’t think he necessarily wants to throw it sometimes when he wants to. And our DBs have improved tremendously from last year. You can see that in Nate and the Dixon brothers (Brian and Brandon) and Clarke (Snodgrass) back there.
“As a linebacker, it’s fun to play in the middle of those guys and just run around.”
Now, the Bearcats can turn their attention to a game – vs. Missouri Western – that has loomed increasingly large as the season played down.
Northwest was ranked No. 4 in the coaches’ poll this past week, Western No. 11. Only twice before have both been that high when they met, and the timing in each case was a little less dramatic: in early October 2009, when the sixth-ranked Bearcats beat Western 49-35, and the first weekend in October 2010, when Northwest Missouri rolled 42-0.
The Bearcats, of course, went on to win the 2009 national championship. Both teams wound earning playoff berths the next season and drew a first-round rematch, Northwest winning 28-24 en route to the D-II semifinals.
Last season poured more fuel on the rivalry. Missouri Western celebrated a 31-28 victory in St. Joseph on the next-to-last weekend of the regular season. Paired again in the playoffs two weeks later, the Bearcats erased a two-touchdown deficit in the final 23 minutes – finally moving ahead on Matt Longacre’s return of a fumble recovery with 8:01 left – to win 35-29.
Another expected crowd of 9,000 plus and a regional television audience will look on when the teams collide again next Saturday.
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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