Justin Rankin run

Senior transfer running back Justin Rankin runs for a first down in Northwest's season-opener Sept. 5 in St. Joseph.

MARYVILLE, Mo. — Following Northwest Missouri State football’s 45-35 win over rival Missouri Western, the Bearcats are concentrating on what they can control heading into the home opener.

Northwest (1-0, 1-0 MIAA) was able to complete a fourth-quarter comeback for the first time since 2017 to start their season with a win for the ninth straight year and extended its win streak against the Griffons (0-1, 0-1 MIAA) to seven.

“There was good and there was bad,” coach Rich Wright said. “We did a nice job starting out defensively. We got the two turnovers. We scored 14 points off of them and really had things going our way. … We lost three of our four starters in the back end so the depth piece has been an issue. Defensively, I wasn’t really happy with the way we tackled at times, so that’s kind of been a point of emphasis.” 

One of the pieces lost in the game was senior cornerback Chama Pierre. The Lake Worth, Florida native did not tear his ACL, which was originally thought. With that, Rich Wright said there was a “high probability” he will play against Washburn.

Fellow cornerback sophomore J’Ravien Anderson also left the game against Missouri Western but was able to return on the final defensive drive of the game. Rich Wright said Anderson will be playing. 

Senior safety Jake Gassman suffered a hamstring injury and is questionable for the home opener after missing all of last season with an injury.

On the other side of the ball, the Bearcats ran the ball 44 times against the Griffons while only passing the ball 18 times. For Northwest, no receiver hauled in more than two passes on Braden Wright’s eight completions.

Rich Wright said a focus for the offensive group heading into Week 2 will be to have a more even split between running and passing.

“One of the things I've talked to the offensive staff about is trying to be a little bit more balanced with running and throwing,” Rich Wright said. “Obviously Justin (Rankin) and Isaiah (Strayhorn) are talented kids but we have a pretty dangerous passing game as well. I think we have to mix it up to keep defenses a little more off-balanced.”

Northwest found success on the ground as it ran for 230 yards as a team. Senior running backs Isaiah Strayhorn and Justin Rankin split the majority of the carries.

Rankin played a vital part in both the running and passing game. Rankin ran for 130 yards on 20 carries an caught two passes for 13 yards.

“I like to think of him as the world's greatest bailout option,” Braden Wright said. “If nothing is there downfield, I’m confident and comfortable just kind of checking the ball down to him and letting him go. You guys saw how he can make people miss in space. He can break tackles when he’s running in between the tackles. I’m very thankful he’s here.”

Junior wide receiver Imoni Donadelle was the leading receiver for the Bearcats as he caught one pass for 60 yards and a touchdown. Donadelle, like Rankin, played a role in both the passing and running game. On the junior’s three touches he averaged 34.7 yards and accounted for 104 all-purpose yards.

“That was a lot of the resiliency factor almost, that everyone is going to fight no matter the circumstances,” Braden Wright said. “The defense single-handedly got us a lead to start the game and it kind of went away because we couldn’t get anything going but it was great to see everyone fight back like that.”

Also coming off of a victory in their season opener, Washburn will travel to Maryville. The last time the Ichabods beat the Bearcats was Oct. 8, 2005. Northwest has won 14 straight against Washburn.

“Washburn is another team that’s always battling,” Rich Wright said. “They are a physical football team. Offensively, they’ve got a quarterback that is returning. … He does a nice job of distributing the football. They’ve got several good receivers. They're physical up front.”

The Ichabods return junior quarterback Mitch Schurig, the son of Washburn coach Craig Schurig. In the Ichabods’ last game against Lincoln, the Topeka, Kansas native threw for 215 yards and three touchdowns on 16 completions.

Washburn had two recievers collect over 60 yards apiece. Sophomores Collin Wilson and James Letcher, Jr. hauled in 68 and 63 yards respectively.

On the defensive side of the ball, Braden Wright will prepare for a defense that returns five starters including defensive backs sophomore Channon Ross and senior Josh Wright. The Ichabods’ defense is coming off a game where they allowed 27 points and forced five turnovers

“They have two guys returning that played quite a lot in the secondary, one of their corners was a starter,” Braden Wright said. “They’ll be a good defense like they always are. They’re well-coached. They’ll give us a lot of things underneath and make us wear them down. … We just have to go out and execute our jobs and it’ll all work out.”

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