Northwest Missouri State hosts North Alabama at 3 p.m. Saturday with a berth in the Division II championship game on the line. Head coach Mel Tjeersdma will shoot for his 25th post-season win, most in D-II football.
It’s a situation the Bearcat senior class has faced in each of the last three seasons and each time, Northwest has prevailed. It began with a 25-24 win at North Alabama in 2005 and continued with home wins against Bloomsburg in 2006 and Grand Valley State in 2007.
A win Saturday would be the 50th for Northwest seniors. They’d also become the second class in Division II history to play in four consecutive national championships, duplicating the feat set by North Dakota State from 1983-86.
North Alabama beat defending national champ Valdosta State in round two, one year after the Blazers ended UNA’s season. The Lions next avenged their lone loss of the season at Delta State last week, winning 55-34. A rematch with the Bearcats is next on the Lions’ checklist to hosting a championship game.
Lion quarterback A.J. Milwee, one of three Harlon Hill finalists, carried five times for 23 yards as a freshman in the 2005 semifinal against Northwest. This season, he’s passed for 3,176 yards and 27 touchdowns and rushed for 221 yards and six scores. He accounted for 332 yards and four touchdowns last week against Delta State.
Raphael Robinson’s lone catch in the 2005 game happened to be the game-winner. He caught a 3-yard fade to the left corner of the end zone from Josh Lamberson with 23 seconds left, which gave the Bearcats a one-point lead.
In addition to Robinson, Northwest seniors Reid Kirby, Tommy Frevert, Kendall Wright, Brant Gregg and Cody Lanus saw time in that game. Frevert has played in all 57 games the last four seasons. Wright has played in 56.
Northwest (No. 2, 12-1) is 5-0 all-time in the national semifinals and 14-3 at home. The Bearcats won back-to-back national titles in 1998 and 1999. North Alabama’s three titles came in consecutive years in 1993, 1994 and 1995. The Lions (No. 5, 12-1) haven’t made a championship appearance since, but reached the semifinals in 2003 in addition to 2005.
The winner of Saturday’s game takes on the winner of sixth-ranked Minnesota-Duluth (13-0) and seventh-ranked California (Pa.) (12-1) next weekend in Florence, Ala., for the national title. That game will start at noon from Braly Municipal Stadium and will be broadcast live on ESPN2.