Nov. 10, 2012
Griffons nip Bearcats 21-20
Now, they wait.
Northwest Missouri State’s Bearcats still figure to land a Division II playoff berth – “we deserve to be in the national playoffs,” coach Adam Dorrel said – but they’ll have to hold a day for assurance after falling 21-20 to arch rival Missouri Western Saturday.
A game that the Bearcats controlled from the start slipped away in seven final, drama-filled minutes. They’d all but taken the Griffons’ star running back, Michael Hill, out of the picture. He touched the ball just twice in the fourth quarter. But quarterback Travis Partridge filled the void, throwing for one touchdown and running two yards for the game-winner with 1:07 left to stun a Senior Day crowd of 10,102 in Bearcat Stadium.
Northwest tried to steal it back, moving against the clock and a stiff south wind to the Griffons’ 39 yard line. Then, what looked like a vital, 14-yard completion from quarterback Trevor Adams to John Hinchey – to the Western 25 – turned into disaster.
Hinchey was called for offensive pass interference, and the play became a 15-yard loss. Two incompletions later, Northwest’s hopes were doused.
With that, Western (10-1 overall, 9-1 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association) claimed its first outright conference championship in its 24 years as a member. It denied Northwest (9-2, 8-2) its 25th title. And it flipped the teams’ positions in the playoff picture.
The Griffons should wind up the No. 3 seed in the NCAA’s Super Region 3 behind Minnesota State-Mankato and Henderson State, and get a first-round game at home next Saturday. Northwest Missouri, ranked third in the region going into Saturday, should fall in somewhere behind them – likely opening next weekend on the road.
Six teams from the region will make the field. The 24-team bracket will be announced by the NCAA at 4 p.m. CST Sunday.
If you get in, you’ve got a chance,” Dorrel said. “And I know myself, when you’re playing and you’re a 5- or 6-seed and you’re playing a higher seed, boy, you ain’t got much to lose.
“Go there, and roll the balls out and let’s go.”
First, he and his team will have to put Saturday’s sting behind them.
Northwest’s defense put a first-half choke hold on Hill and a Missouri Western offense that had piled up 1,556 yards and 176 points in its previous three games, all MIAA routs. Hill, named one of 24 Harlon Hill Trophy candidates a day earlier, averaged less than three yards a carry. The Griffons totaled just 64 yards in the half.
Meanwhile, Adams connected on 14 of his first 18 passes for 157 yards and a first-quarter touchdown – on the heels of a Travis Manning interception – that made it 7-0. Jordan Simmons then ran for a two-yard TD. Todd Adolf hit a 22-yard field goal. And it was 17-0 at halftime.
Western finally broke through on Partridge’s third-quarter scoring pass to Tyron Crockom. But Adolf connected again, putting just enough foot into a 43-yard field goal attempt to lift it against the wind and over the crossbar to make it 20-7 with 7:06 left to play.
Those three points would be the sum of the Bearcats’ second-half scoring.
“Confidence is a very difficult thing in athletic endeavors, and we just really lost our confidence,” Dorrel said. “I just kept waiting for a spark – an interception, a big tackle for a loss – and we didn’t do that.”
It was the Griffons’ Partridge, instead, who stepped forward. He completed seven of his eight fourth-quarter passes for 104 yards. When he hit teammate Tarrell Downing over the middle and Downing evaded one tackle, then a couple more in a sprint to the end zone, it was 20-14.
Less than two minutes later, Partridge was back at work. He passed for one first down, scrambled away from a blitz for another, and passed for a third to the Northwest 15-yard line. Hill then bounced an off-tackle run outside to the 2.
Partridge deftly faked to Hill on the next snap, kept the ball himself and ran in for the decisive score.
“You’ve got to give them credit. They made plays when they needed to make plays,” Dorrel said. “But I just feel like we pressed a little bit. We were seeing the ball being caught, and it was almost like we were in slow motion getting to the tackle.”
Partridge, who’d completed less than 50 percent of his passes and thrown for a single touchdown in two games against Northwest last year, finished 19-for-26 for 207 yards and the two TDs. Hill, the nation’s second-leading rusher, wound up with the first 100-yard game of his career against the Bearcats: 121 yards on 19 carries.
A sizable contingent of Missouri Western fans twisted the knife, storming Bearcat Field after the final gun.
It’s not impossible that the two teams could meet again next week – as they have in rematches in the playoffs’ first round the past two years. A No. 3 seed for Western and a No. 6 for the Bearcats would pair them in St. Joseph.
“We’ll see tomorrow at 4 o’clock,” Dorrel said, adding that the ’Cats’ loss “doesn’t diminish what they’ve done. We’ve had a good season. We’re proud of our seniors; we’re proud of our kids.
“Hopefully, we’ll make the national playoffs . . . playing the schedule we’ve played,” he said. “And if you can do that in this league, make the playoffs, it’s been a good season. We’ll regroup. We’ve got to learn from our mistakes and be ready to go next week.”
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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