Northwest Missouri State coach Adam Dorrel had one less motivational ploy available to him entering this season.
“I didn’t have the card to play, that I didn’t think we were going to be very good,” Dorrel said. “With all the people we had coming back it was apparent we had a chance to be good.”
The Bearcats welcomed a 16-member senior class from a team that won the NCAA Division II national championship last season and finished 15-0.
The winning streak now stands at a college-football best 29 as Northwest Missouri looks to conclude another perfect season by winning Saturday’s national title game against North Alabama. Kickoff at Children’s Mercy Park is 3 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
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In the program’s 10th national title game appearance, the Bearcats will be gunning for their sixth NCAA football championship. Dorrel has won two after taking over for program in 2011.
Dorrel succeed Scott Bostwick, who died after taking over for coaching legend Mel Tjeerdsma only months earlier. Dorrel played at Northwest and was a freshman on the 1994 team –Tjeerdsma’s first – that finished 0-11.
He joined the staff as a full-time member in 2005 and the Bearcats have been a dominant program throughout his tenure.
“It’s difficult to get to the top,” Dorrel said. “But it may be more difficult to stay there. Each and every day for these guys there’s been a target on their back.”
But the Bearcats have handled each opponent, none more challenging than Ferris State in last week’s national semifinal. Northwest survived 35-20 despite losing four starters at some point during the game to injuries.
One of them, senior quarterback Kyle Zimmerman, said Thursday he’s “feeling great” and expects to play.
In North Alabama, Northwest meets a national power whose tradition predates the Bearcats’ rise.
The Lions are making their first title game appearance since 1995, when they won their third straight championship by beating Pittsburg State in the final.
North Alabama is 11-1, having lost only its opener to Jacksonville State, an FCS program.
The Lions arrive in Kansas City from an impressive road victory in the semifinals. They won at Shepherd, the West Virginia school that Northwest defeated in last year’s final.
That road triumph and the experience of playing before 22,000 at Jacksonville in the opener, should serve North Alabama well as it confronts what will be a partisan Northwest crowd at Children’s Mercy, said senior quarterback Jacob Tucker.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” Tucker said. “It’s nothing that will completely throw us off our game.”