FLORENCE, AL — Famed sportswriter Grantland Rice once wrote, “The tragedy of life is not in losing, but in almost winning.” While few would call the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats’ 21-17 loss to the Grand Valley State Lakers in the NCAA Division II National Football Championship a tragedy, it was certainly a major disappointment for Head Coach Mel Tjeerdsma’s squad.
The Bearcats jumped out to an early 7-0 lead on a 30 yard touchdown pass from Josh Lamberson to Mike Peterson on the team’s 70-yard opening drive. That delighted thousands of green-clad Northwest Missouri fans who had journeyed from Maryville and elsewhere in the Show-Me State to Florence, Alabama, for what they hoped would be the climax to an improbable playoff run that saw the Bearcats win four straight road games. A fifth straight victory was not to be.
Grand Valley tied the game at 7, and it stayed that way until Xavier Oman’s 2 yard run put the Bearcats on top 14-7 as they headed to the locker room at the half. The Lakers tied it up in the 3rd quarter, only to see the Bearcats move back on top as Tommy Frevert kicked a 35 yard field goal. The Lakers took the lead on a touchdown with 4:25 remaining, setting the stage for a final “edge of your seat” drive that saw the Bearcats fall just four yards short of the goal line. The game’s final play saw Lamberson completing an 18 yard pass to Raphael Robinson who was brought down just a dozen feet from paydirt.
Though they did not win the title, the Bearcats can take pride in a number of team and individual accomplishments. Quarterback Josh Lamberson and the Bearcats set both individual and team records for most passes attempted with 49 and most passes completed with 33. The Bearcats’ Mike Peterson became the tenth player in Championship history to finish with 100 yards or more receiving. He finished with 9 completions for 150 yards.
In the post-game news conference, Tjeerdsma said he was proud of his football team and its great effort on the field. He acknowledged that a defeat in such a close game is hard for the players to accept, but he put it in perspective. “Life is going to go on,” said the coach. “Tomorrow morning the sun’s going to come up and it’ll be another day. And each day will get a little better and the hurt will go away. These guys have learned a tremendous lesson in life that’s going to benefit them later on.”
The Bearcats complete their season with a record of 11-4.
(Audio link below features Coach Mel Tjeerdsma; Josh Lamberson, Mike Peterson and Dave Tollefson)