Northwest Missouri State dominated to such a degree in the first half that it did not matter that St. Cloud State (Minn.) put together a six-minute scoring drive to start the third quarter.
The Bearcats put up 28 unanswered points in the first half that led to a 59-21 victory in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals on a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon at Bearcat Stadium.
“I am really proud of our kids,” Northwest coach Adam Dorrel said. “We tried to challenge them this week about playing football in December and trying to be a tough guy. We knew the elements were going to be difficult.”
The Bearcats made it look easy.
Northwest, 13-0, advances to the semifinals and will play Grand Valley State (Mich.) on Dec. 14 in Maryville. The last time the Bearcats faced Grand Valley in the playoffs, they won 30-23 in the 2009 Division II championship game.
Throughout the quarterfinal Saturday, Northwest played championship-caliber football.
It certainly had to be disheartening for St. Cloud after it put together an impressive 12-play, 75-yard drive for a touchdown and then watched the Bearcats answer immediately.
Sophomore Bryce Enyard returned the kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown that gave Northwest a 35-7 lead.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Enyard said. “As soon as I got the ball and I looked up and I saw everybody was making their blocks. I found the hole, made the cut and it was off to the races.”
Northwest put the game out of reach in the first half. The Bearcats moved the ball on the ground behind senior Billy Creason and freshman Phil Jackson II and through the air on the arm of senior quarterback Trevor Adams.
Jackson finished with four touchdowns and Creason added three.
“Our offensive line played their hearts out today,” Creason said. “It was great to see. When they block like that it makes it easier for me.”
Creason set the tone in the game’s opening drive, breaking off a 17-yard run on the first play of the game and following it with a 17-yard reception. The opening drive went to St. Cloud’s 15 before a fumble prevented Northwest from scoring.
It was the only miscue the Bearcats made in the first half. After Northwest stopped St. Cloud on three plays, the Bearcats got great field position at the Huskies’ 26.
Five plays later, Northwest was in the end zone on a 3-yard run by Creason. The origin of a rout was taking shape even though Northwest held a 7-0 lead after one quarter.
The Bearcats scored in the first minute of the second quarter on a 1-yard run by Creason for a 14-0 lead.
“It is a great feeling, especially when you get off the field and your offense can do that,” Northwest junior linebacker D.J. Gnader said. “Coach talked all week about running the ball and our offense did a great job of that today.”
Northwest added to its lead later in the second quarter on a 1-yard run by Jackson. Jackson scored again with 30 seconds remaining in the second quarter that gave the Bearcats a 28-0 halftime lead.
Northwest had 326 total yards and 19 first downs compared to 75 yards and three first downs for St. Cloud in the first half. Northwest passed for 184 yards and ran for 142 in the first half.
“We didn’t execute like we usually do,” said St. Cloud senior quarterback Phillip Klaphake. “It was pretty obvious by us not putting up any points and we are an offense that typically scores a lot.
“I will take a lot of blame for that. I didn’t play as well as I should have in the first half. Second half I played a little better, but when it gets out of hand, it makes it tough to come back.”