Dec. 20, 2013
Team concept drives Bearcats to finaleBy David Boyce | Northwest vs. Lenoir Rhyne | National Championship | Sat., Dec. 21 11 a.m. CST | Braly Stadium
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FLORENCE, Ala. - A year ago when Northwest Missouri State football team lost in double overtime in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs, the players showed unbelievable determination.
It would have been easy for the Bearcats to go through the motions in the second half. They went into halftime trailing Minnesota State-Mankato 21-0. The wind chills hovered around zero.
The way many of those juniors fought back on the road in adverse weather conditions left an impression that 2013 had the potential to be very special.
Northwest, 14-0, is in position to win its fourth NCAA Division II football title. The Bearcats take on Lenoir-Rhyne, 13-1, at 11 a.m. Saturday at Braly Memorial Stadium in Florence, Ala.
This is the 28th straight year and probably the last time the Division II championship game is in Florence. Next year the game will be at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.
It is fitting the Bearcats are in the final one. This is their eighth appearance in Florence, more than any other Division II program.
The way the Bearcats did it this time is a blueprint of how to be a championship team. It started as they walked off a cold field in Mankato, Minn.
“Losing the playoff game in the manner we did really makes you second guess the things that you have done and that sets you up for the next season and makes you hungrier,” Northwest junior wide receiver Bryce Young said.
“You watch film with a purpose and you correct the things you can correct. It is a big thing to refocus.”
Seniors such as offensive linemen as Jake Scarbo and John Petroff and running back Billy Creason and defensive lineman Bryant Hummel were among a senior class that set the tone back in January.
They continued it during the first few days of practice in August when the true freshmen arrived in the program.
Even though the newcomers were going to redshirt and not participate in any games this season, the seniors made them feel welcomed.
“That is one of the biggest things that set this team apart,” Young said. “Our senior class took it upon themselves to take a vested interest in the younger guys, even the true freshmen. That is one thing that sets this team apart from some of our others is the camaraderie we have top to bottom.”
Another thing about this team that is unique is how hard they worked from January through December.
These Bearcats didn’t talk about winning the MIAA and playing for a national championship. They had a strong desire to get there. The words that mostly came out of their mouths were “do my 1/11.”
It means that each player only needs to worry about doing his job because he is certain his teammate will do his job.
In theory, it sounds great. But it only works when teammates have absolute confidence everybody is working hard at their job. It breaks down when one player thinks another hasn’t put in the work so he tries to cover for him in a game and ultimately, that leads to break downs on offense and defense.
Game after game this season, no player has tried to play the hero and do something out of its realm. Each player has done his 1/11.
The Bearcats have trust in each other because they see each other watching film on their time instead of hanging out with friends or stopping by a fast food restaurant before practice.
By putting this amount of investment into the season, the Bearcats were not going to come out flat for any games. They came ready to play whether they were facing a team looking for its first win or an undefeated team.
“You have only 15 times to prove to your community, the nation the work that you put into offseason,” Young said. “That is a big motivation.”
Saturday will be the 15th time for the Bearcats. They want to show the nation that hard work and camaraderie can produce a national championship.
Without knowing Lenoir-Rhyne, it is still probably safe to say the Bears have the same sort of traits. It is difficult, if not impossible, to reach the championship game without working hard all year and playing together.
Northwest and Lenoir-Rhyne will battle hard for the right to raise the NCAA Division II trophy. It should be an entertaining game.
The 2013 Bearcats have already made this an immensely enjoyable season. They have won the right way, the Bearcat way.
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