There are a multitude of reasons why Northwest Missouri reached the NCAA Division II football title game for the ninth time in program history.
The top-ranked defense is a good place to start. The Bearcats lead Division II in both fewest points and yards allowed heading into Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at Sporting Park against Shepherd University of West Virginia.
The unit was its usual stout self in a 38-23 semifinal win against West Georgia, allowing a paltry 74 yards as the Bearcats built a 24-6 lead at the break.
Some cracks started to show in the second half, when a pair of busted coverages led to long touchdown passes, and West Georgia began to rally.
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“Our main focus was taking the momentum back. We knew how great of a football team they were, and giving them momentum would be troublesome for us. So we wanted to keep the momentum and stop them from making big plays,” senior defensive back Bryce Enyard said.
The defense made two plays in the second half that shined brighter in the postgame spotlight. The first was stuffing a West Georgia reverse for a 3-yard loss on second and goal, when the Wolves seemed destined to score the go-ahead touchdown.
“I called a run play, they blitzed us from the front side edge and got a tackle for loss right there. I thought that was the turning point in the game,” West Georgia coach Will Hall said. “If we punch it in right there, we’re going to take the lead, and instead we kick a field goal and we’re down by one.”
The Bearcats’ defense stepped up again later in the fourth quarter. West Georgia was on the cusp of field-goal range when another rushing play was thrown for a 4-yard loss on first down from the Bearcats’ 32.
West Georgia missed a 53-yard field goal after two straight incompletions and never got that close to the lead again.
“They were huge. You don’t realize at the juncture of the game, you don’t realize the magnitude of those two plays, you really don’t,” Northwest coach Adam Dorrel said. “Now to sit here and talk about it, they were huge, huge plays.”
It was just the third time this season the Bearcats have allowed at least 20 points, and the first since a homecoming victory over Fort Hays State on Oct. 24.
The semifinal was the first time West Georgia and Northwest Missouri played. All it took was 60 minutes for Northwest to turn the Wolves into believers.
“I think they’ll win (the championship), handily,” Hall said.
Division II football championship
Who: Northwest Missouri, 13-0, vs. Shepherd (W.Va.), 13-0
When/where: 3 p.m. Saturday at Sporting Park
Tickets: Available through Ticketmaster. Regular adult tickets are $25.
Parking: Free, tailgating is allowed, lots open at 11 a.m.