Northwest Missouri State decided to try something different in its third playoff game. Instead of trailing, the Bearcats quickly jumped to a 7-0 lead and never trailed.  The formula worked in the Bearcats’ low anxiety 37-20 victory over Central Missouri Saturday afternoon in front of 8,125 fans at Bearcat Stadium.

“I can’t say enough about the effort for 60 minutes today,” Northwest coach Mel Tjeerdsma said. “We talk about being the Bearcats. We’ve had a lot of great teams. But these guys showed as much today and last week and the second half of the Missouri Western game as any group we’ve had.”

In the first two playoff games, the Bearcats faced double-digit deficits in the second half.

“They played a great, all-around game,” Central coach Jim Svoboda said of Northwest. “Their kids made a lot of plays when they had to. When we got it close, they came up with a play to keep it out of reach for us. They were really at a different level today.  I’m extremely proud of our players and their effort, particularly our seniors.”

Northwest is now just one victory away from making an unprecedented sixth straight appearance in the NCAA Division II championship game.

But the road to Florence, Ala., has one more major hurdle for the Bearcats. Northwest, 12-1, will face Minnesota Duluth, 13-0, in the semifinals next Saturday.

The Bearcats made many key plays against Central on a blustery, but sunny afternoon.  It started with a beautiful 23-yard touchdown reception by Tyler Shaw from quarterback Blake Bolles that gave Northwest a 7-0 lead with 11:06 left in the first quarter.

After Central tied the game, Northwest scored on its next drive, the bulk of which also came against the wind. Other than one fumble that led to a Central touchdown late in the second quarter, Northwest played a near perfect first half and took a 24-14 lead into halftime.

The one touchdown that Central scored because of the turnover, the Bearcats answered with an 11-play, 52-yard drive that ended with a 26-yard field goal by Todd Adolf.

The worst thing to happen for the Bearcats in the first half was an ankle injury to senior tight end Josh Baker on his touchdown reception that gave Northwest a 21-7 lead with 9:03 left in the second half.

Baker left on a cart and never returned.

Junior wide receiver Jake Soy caught his first pass of the game in the second half. It broke the Mules’ back. Soy’s 58-yard touchdown reception gave Northwest a commanding 30-14 lead with 10:39 left in the game.

No way would the playoff savvy Bearcats blow a 16-point lead with less than a quarter to go.  Central, which had its best season in the program’s history, showed why it won 11 of 14 games this season. The Mules drove for a touchdown and closed to 30-20. They were forced to go for two and were stopped.

Story courtesy of Northwest Missour Athletics