KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With a big game, on a big stage with conference title implications, Northwest Missouri State football proved to be up to the task.
On a sunny 56-degree day in front of a crowd of 14,228 fans at Arrowhead Stadium, the No. 7 ranked Bearcats (6-0, 6-0 MIAA) were able to defeat No. 13 ranked Pittsburg State (5-1, 5-1 MIAA) 38-17 Saturday in a game that lasted two hours and 55 minutes.
“What I stressed to the kids all week was just finding a way to win a football game,” coach Rich Wright said. “You never know what that’s going to look like until you actually get out there on Saturday afternoon. I thought we did some good things.”
Despite Northwest receiving the opening kickoff, the Gorillas got on the scoreboard first with a 78-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Mlekus to Lorenzo West.
The Pittsburg State lead wouldn’t last long though as the Bearcats used a four-play 73-yard drive to tie the game up 1:41 later. Northwest’s drive was capped off by a run-pass option that resulted in a 6-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Braden Wright to senior tight end Marqus Andrews.
Andrews wasn’t done there as he caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from redshirt freshman utility man Mike Hohensee. The redshirt freshman and senior would connect once more on a fake field goal for a 35-yard score.
“It was a good game,” Andrews said. “Credit the coaching staff, the quarterbacks, everybody else for setting stuff up and allowing me to go out there and execute it.”
A native of Blue Springs, Missouri, Andrews recorded a career-high three touchdowns and coming into the game, Andrews had six touchdowns in his career.
Because Andrews is from the area, he said it was special to perform well in front of his friends and family.
“It means a lot,” Andrews said. “I had a lot of family here. I probably had like 30 family members in attendance watching so it means a lot to have them come and watch me and perform the way I did today in front of them.”
After allowing the opening score and 14 points in the first half, the Bearcat defense tightened down. Northwest was able to score 28 unanswered points in the second half, allowing three points and 154 total offensive yards.
“I was really pleased with our defense, particularly in the second half,” Rich Wright said. “They had two big plays over the top and really, other than that, I thought we played a pretty good football game.”
Sophomore Sam Phillips recorded a career-best 11 tackles, which led the Bearcats against the Gorillas. Northwest recorded three sacks on the day including junior linebacker Jackson Barnes’ first of the season.
The defense was able to force three turnovers, holding Pittsburg State to 5-of-19 on third downs.
“I think getting off on third down was a big emphasis for us,” Phillips said. “In the past, we kind of struggled with that. … We kind of stressed ‘Get off on third down,’ and if we could do that then we could get the ball back to our offense.”
For the second time in his career, Braden Wright rushed for over 100 yards and his 172 rushing yards Saturday was good enough for his career-high. Meanwhile, the sophomore quarterback threw for 102 yards and a touchdown on 13-for-24 passing with an interception.
“I’m just doing what I can to help us move the ball and win,” Braden Wright said. “If they ask me to carry it 17 times, yeah my body is going to be hurting a bit more than if I throw 50 times but if I got to do it, I’ll do it.”
Hohensee recorded two touchdowns in the game while throwing for 54 yards on 3-for-4 passing. While the Gorillas somewhat successfully focused on slowing down junior wide receiver Imoni Donadelle and senior running back Justin Rankin, the Cats showed they have multiple weapons on offense.
“Pitt was concerned with Imoni,” Rich Wright said. “You watch the high safety coverage at times spilling over the top of him. … He was honed in on him so when that happens, you’ve got to get people involved in the game plan.”
Donadelle recorded two catches for -5 yards and one carry for a 59-yard touchdown.
The Bearcats go back on the road next week as they head to Kearney, Nebraska to take on the Lopers, who are coming off a 44-0 win over Lincoln.
“It’s Week 6,” Rich Wright said. “It was a game, it was a good game and we won it and we’re going to go back to Maryville and celebrate that tonight. Tomorrow, I’m going to be right back at the office doing what I do. … This win means nothing if we go to Kearney, Nebraska and lay an egg.”