Colin McDonough, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
MARYVILLE – The Northwest Missouri State University football team captured a share of its 30th MIAA regular season title by taking down previously undefeated University of Central Missouri, 45-23.
Northwest (10-1 overall) tallied eight quarterback sacks, forced six turnovers and blocked a kick in front of 7,323 fans at Bearcat Stadium.
With a fire in their eyes, Northwest hit the ground running and set their sights on getting up early. On the first play of the game, the defense threw fuel onto that fire as Trey Washington snagged an interception on an underthrown ball by the Mules quarterback Brook Bolles.
This interception was only the beginning as the Bearcat defense emerged as the main cog that led to the victory over Central Missouri. Northwest’s defense accounted for six turnovers four interceptions and two forced fumbles, eight sacks, 13 tackles-for-loss, a blocked kick and two touchdowns.
A trio of Bearcats stood out on a defense that shined throughout the day at Bearcat Stadium. Washington snared a pair of interceptions and returned a fumble for a touchdown. Spencer Phillips had a huge day on the defensive line with 10 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. Linebacker Jackson Barnes also grabbed two interceptions and returned his final pick 29 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
It isn’t fair to mention the defense’s success without mentioning the offense’s scoring endeavors. While the defense held the Mules to just 17 points at half, the Bearcats were able to post 21 on Central Missouri by the time the second quarter ended.
Running back Justin Rankin started the scoring at 13:25 in the first, as he took the ball in from the seven-yard line. Rankin was met near the goal line but the Bearcat offensive line was able to force Rankin into the end zone.
The rush attacked seemed to be the go-to in the beginning stages of the game as the Bearcats’s second drive consisted of 64 yards on the ground. Braden Wright finished the drive with a burst through a hole on the right side with 10:07 left to make it 14-0.
The Mules got their first points on the board as they grabbed a field goal with :40 left in the first. But the Bearcats retaliated as Rankin once again found the end zone. This time he pushed through from the one-yard line at 14:37 in the second quarter to make it 21-3.
Central Missouri scored its first touchdown of the day on a two-yard run by Koby Wilkerson with 3:32 left in the second quarter.
The Bearcat defense put the next points on the board when Spencer Phillips sacked Bolles and forced a fumble. Brody Buck scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the 26-yard line where he handed it off to Washington, who covered the final 26 yards for the fumble return for a touchdown. The strip-sack, scoop-and-lateral-and-score gave Northwest a 28-10 lead with 1:52 left before halftime.
The Mules struck again before the half by moving the ball 63 yards in nine plays. Bolles connected with Shae Waytt for a 21-yard score with only 24 seconds left before intermission.
Northwest added to the score once again as Parker Sampson hit a 45-yard field goal with 11:54 left in the fourth. This was the first score after half as both defenses stood stout in their ways.
After the Barnes pick-six to make it 38-17, Central Missouri scored its final points of the day on a 61-yard touchdown strike from Bolles to Cameron Saunders with 11:10 to play in the game. The UCM touchdown cut the Northwest lead to 38-23, and Sam Roberts kept it that way by blocking the extra point.
Braden Wright only finished the Mules off with a read-option that went for 49 yards and a touchdown with 2:48 in the fourth to put the icing on a 45-23 victory.
The 2019 NCAA Division II playoff selection show will be shown on NCAA.com on Sunday at 4 p.m. The Bearcats will be looking for the program’s 24th NCAA playoff appearance and 16th straight trip to the postseason tournament.
NOTES: The Bearcat defense forced a season-high six turnovers (four interceptions and two fumbles) … Central Missouri was held to a season-low 23 points … the Mules came into the contest ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring offense at 51.2 points per game … it’s the fourth time this season that UCM has allowed an opponent to score 40 or more points … Northwest has scored 40 or more points six times this season … Northwest was a perfect 3-for-3 in red-zone scoring opportunities … Northwest out-rushed UCM, 236-81 … Braden Wright rushed for a game-high 86 yards on eight carries and scored two touchdowns … Kaden Davis recorded his first career 100-yard reception game with four catches for 105 yards … Justin Rankin rushed for 64 yards and two scores … Isaiah Strayhorn carried nine times for 68 yards, including a long of 41 … each of the four starters on the Bearcat defensive line recorded at least one sack (Spencer Phillips – 2; Zach Howard – 2; Sam Roberts – 1.5; Mike Ehlke – 1).