Dec. 14, 2013
Alabama Bound, Northwest beats Grand ValleyBy David Boyce | Box Score | Photos | Fan Photos | Championship Travel Information (PDF)
MARYVILLE, Mo. - One more big play was needed for Northwest Missouri State to stamp its ticket to Florence, Ala., for the NCAA Division II national championship game.
Senior quarterback Trevor Adams delivered it to Reuben Thomas with just under 5 minutes left.
Grand Valley must have been thinking the Bearcats were going to run the ball on first down to salt away a few more seconds. Instead, Adams dropped back and threw a perfect spiral to Thomas, who nestled the ball into his gut and waltzed into the end zone with 4:58 left in the game.
“We just wanted to play aggressive and play to win,” Adams said. “That was our mantra all week and what it has been all season.”
The championship play gave the Bearcats a 14-point lead, more than enough for them to come away with a spine-tingling 27-13 victory Saturday evening at Bearcat Stadium in the NCAA Division II semifinals.
“We have one more game to go, but it has been so exciting to see all the hard work payoff,” Adams said. “We have such a great senior class. That has been so awesome to be a part of.”
A year ago, the Bearcats lost 38-35 in overtime in the second round to Minnesota State Mankato on a bitterly cold late November day. Northwest knew they had a team that could have advanced deeper in the playoffs.
The returners were determined to get Northwest back to the top. The wanted to hear the cool sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd one more time at Bearcat Stadium.
Sweet Home Alabama – both goalposts go down.
“You can’t really put into words, but it is a great feeling,” Northwest junior defensive end Matt Longacre said. “I am so happy for the guys that we get to experience this.”
Northwest will take its perfect 14-0 record to Alabama and face Lenoir-Rhyne at 11 a.m., Dec. 21 at Braly Stadium. The Bearcats are making their eighth appearance in the national championship game and will be seeking their fourth title.
“We have good positive energy,” Northwest senior running back Billy Creason. “We always talk about sharing the experience of going to the national championship with our young guys. Everybody on the team bought into that and we are here.
“We are like a family. I can turn to anybody on offense and whenever we need a big play, we know somebody is going to step up.”
The Bearcats have put themselves in position for another special game. Earlier this season, Northwest played the final of 12 installments of the Fall Classic at Arrowhead and beat Pittsburg State 24-15.
This will be the last of 28 straight Division II championship games in Florence. Next year the Division II title game moves to Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.
It has already been a truly special season for the 2013 Bearcats. They have won 12 of their 14 games by double-digits.
But this one was far more difficult as it should be to reach the title game.
“I am just so proud of our kids, the way they battled today; the way they battled all year,” Northwest coach Adam Dorrel said. “We talked about playing to win and I think we did that for 60 minutes.”
After Northwest took a 20-6 lead with 3:55 left in the third quarter on a 28-yard field goal by Simon Mathieson, Grand Valley showed its championship mettle.
The Lakers went 77 yards in eight plays and scored a touchdown near the end of the third quarter, closing to 20-13.
Grand Valley then stopped a Northwest drive and got the ball back at its 20. After reaching midfield, the Lakers ran into a stonewall known as the Bearcat defense.
With seven minutes left, Northwest started at its 20 and needed to get a few first downs to take time off the clock.
The Bearcats wanted more. On the fourth play of the drive, Adams hit Thomas for a beautiful touchdown that ultimately put Northwest in another championship game.
“That was probably the difference in the game,” Grand Valley coach Matt Mitchell said. “The play-action pass and No. 12 (Thomas) getting behind us.”
Thomas said he has been waiting for this moment. When he saw the ball in the air, he wanted the ball to get there before the defender.
“I looked it in, scored the touchdown,” Thomas said.
Northwest went into halftime with a 10-6 lead. Any lead in a national semifinal game is important, but the Bearcats had a couple of reasons to feel disappointed.
The Bearcats dominated the first half. Two fumbles prevented them from taking more command of the game.
On the second play from scrimmage, Northwest fumbled at its 17. Thanks to stellar defense by the Bearcats, Grand Valley settled for a 37-yard field goal.
“We can’t ever get too down because we know those guys coming on the field are going to shut them down no matter where the ball is at,” Adams said. “Matt (Longacre) and D.J. (Gnader) and those guys have done an awesome job all season.
“The trust that we have has been huge for us. When I was running to the sideline after I had just thrown that pass backwards, D.J. and those guys came up and said we got you and that is what is so awesome about our defense. They got our backs just like we have theirs.
The Lakers added another field goal later in the first quarter for a 6-0 lead. Northwest answered that score with a nine play, 80-yard drive and scored on a 6-yard run by Bolles.
Northwest was in position to increase its lead when it moved to the 1 on a 14-yard pass reception by Korey Jackson. The Bearcats fumbled on the next play, erasing a tremendous scoring opportunity.
Grand Valley put together only one good drive in the second quarter and ended with a missed 32-yard field goal into a stiff north wind.
The Bearcats took over late in the second quarter and moved 78 yards and on fourth down, Mathieson nailed a 19-yard field goal on the last play in the first half.
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