11 a.m. Saturday at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Ala.
What’s at stake
A trophy for a playoff champion. Most of college football plays for one, only the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision does not. Both teams were top-ranked in their regional, and this is the first playoff game away from home for both.
Northwest can clamp down on the Bears’ running game. Lenoir-Rhyne is an option-based team that doesn’t throw much because it doesn’t have to. If Northwest jumps ahead, it will make the Bears predictable and push them out of a comfort zone.
The Bearcats fall out of character and play sloppy. They’ve done the little things well. Northwest is plus-14 in turnover margin and solid in the kicking game. That has to continue.
Three things about Lenoir-Rhyne
1 Lenoir-Rhyne is not in Lenoir, N.C., but in Hickory. It’s a private school with an enrollment of about 2,000 and is the alma mater of Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes.
2 The Bears play in the South Atlantic Conference, and the league is represented in the Division II championship game for the fourth time. Carson-Newman (Tenn.) advanced to the title game three times in the 1990s and lost to Northwest Missouri in 1998 and 1999. This is the Bears’ second trip to the NCAA playoffs, but they appeared in six bowl games in the 1950s and 1960s as an NAIA team, and won the NAIA title in 1960.
3 At 378 yards per game, Lenoir-Rhyne leads Division II in rushing. The Bears rushed for 451 yards in their semifinal victory over West Chester (Pa.) and did not attempt a pass.
Northwest linebackers D.J. Gnader, Eric Reimer and Cody Matthewson against the Bears option attack:
Defensively, the Bearcats have played disciplined and have filled the gaps. Lenoir-Rhyne quarterback Miles Freeman is the team’s top rusher with 968 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Blair Kerkhoff’s pick: Northwest Missouri 30-17
Lenoir-Rhyne has been unfazed by its lack of playoff experience, rolling past three opponents. But will the Bears be just happy to be here? Northwest bids to become the fifth Division II program to finish 15-0. The 1998 Bearcats were the first to do it. It happens again.