Emporia State senior quarterback Brent Wilson collected a snap, rotated the football in his hands and turned to fire a quick-slant pattern. But before his arm even reached its throwing motion, a pair of Northwest Missouri State defensive linemen pulled him down for a sack.
It was a common occurrence Saturday. See, for all of Northwest’s offensive flare and the attention its seventh-ranked offense generates, its defense has supplied a steady onslaught of big plays this season. And this postseason.
And again Saturday.
Northwest used eight sacks to roll past Emporia State for the second time this season, this one for a 38-17 victory Saturday in the NCAA Division II football quarterfinals in front of 5,155 fans at Bearcat Stadium.
“You can’t double team all of us,” said Northwest defensive tackle Collin Bevins, who had a team-best 2 1/2 sacks. “If you focus your attention on one person, someone else is going to make a play.”
Six players were credited with a sack. That was the recipe to lead the top-ranked Bearcats, 13-0, into the semifinals, where they will face West Georgia on Dec. 12 for a spot in the NCAA championship game, which will be played Dec. 19 at Sporting Park. The semifinal game time and location is yet to be determined.
Northwest, seeking its fifth national title in program history, will make its 10th semifinal appearance. It has won 22 straight games against Emporia.
On Saturday, in the first all-MIAA national quarterfinal matchup since 2011, Northwest used consistent defensive pressure to disrupt an Emporia State offense that had scored 36.3 points per game. Northwest had four sacks in the first quarter alone.
“It starts up front with Northwest. They’re the real deal,” Emporia State coach Garin Higgins said.
“I thought our offensive line played as good as it possibly could.”
Add to that, Northwest played the entire game with the lead. The Bearcats turned three of their first four drives into points and a 17-0 lead. Senior quarterback Brady Bolles used play-action to find a wide open Jordan Grove for the first touchdown of the game midway through first quarter. Cameron Wilcox ran for a 2-yard score. And Bolles connected with Jordan Bishop for a 9-yard touchdown.
That was just before halftime.
Bolles pestered Emporia State with short crossing routes over the middle of the field, finishing with 329 yards and three touchdowns.
“Last time we played them, we were able to hit some deep balls, so we knew they were going to try to take that away,” Bolles said. “We had a really good game-plan today. Our offensive line did a great job blocking for me and giving me time.”
Wilson, on the other hand, was forced to hurry his throws, but he still passed for 324 yards. His top target, Morris Williams caught 10 passes for 191 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown.
But the Hornets, 11-2, failed to establish a rushing game that produced 156 yards per game in the regular season. They carried the ball 31 times for 93 yards.
Another credit to the Northwest defense.
“I think that’s the biggest challenge we’ve had this year,” Northwest coach Adam Dorrel said. “I was very proud of the way they responded today.”
▪ Minnesota Duluth knocked off Fort Hays State 30-22 in the Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs. Treveon Albert was 7 for 18 for 78 yards and a touchdown. Albert also had a 72-yard rushing touchdown.