MARYVILLE, Mo. — After beating the two toughest teams on its schedule to close out its 2019 regular season, the Northwest Missouri State University football team will play host to its first postseason game since 2016.
The No. 10-ranked Bearcats (10-1) were given the No. 3 seed in Super Region Three by the selection committee Nov. 17. Being the No. 3 seed meant the Cats would host. Northwest was delt No. 12-ranked Harding (10-1) for the opening round.
“I have a lot of respect for their football program,” coach Rich Wright said about Harding. “I think they’ve really developed it and built it the right way. Both their former coach and current coaches are great character people. We might have our hands full Saturday.”
Being named in the national tournament extends a pair of playoff standards. The Bearcats collected their 24th overall appearance in the Division II playoffs while continuing their streak of consecutive playoff appearances to 16 in a row.
Along with the streaks, Northwest is 48-17 all-time in the playoffs, best in Division II playoff history. Additionally, the Cats maintain the highest winning percentage in the playoffs winning 73.8 percent of their games.
“What we did in 2012 and 2016 has absolutely nothing to do with what we have to do this time around,” Wright said. “I think their coach talked about the same thing. He talked about tradition. Tradition doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot because there are going to be 58 guys in green and 58 guys in white, out on the field on Saturday and that’s where it’s going to get decided.”
The Bearcats will put their 22-game home playoff winning streak on the line when the Bison make the 501-mile trek north to Maryville on Saturday.
Following a 16-14 loss to the region’s No. 2 seed and the No. 5 ranked team in the country, Ouachita Baptist, in the first game of the season, the Bison haven’t lost since beating teams by an average of 25.9 points per game.
“The more we kind of sat there and thought about it, ‘If you’re Harding, who’s the last team you want to play,’” MIAA Defensive Player of the Year senior Spencer Phillips said. “When’s the last time they’ve came in here and matched up against us. That should give us the upper hand. We have everything we need to be successful against them.”
Harding is known for its triple-option attack, as the majority of the Bison’s offense comes on the ground. On the season, Harding has attempted to run the ball 671 times collecting 4,332 total yards on the ground. The Bison have only attempted to throw the ball 24 times this season.
Northwest faced an option team in Pittsburg State earlier this season but Wright said the teams have nothing in common.
“Absolutely none,” Wright said about the similarities between the two offenses. “Other than they call their offenses option. This is completely different than what we played against Pitt State. … There’s no comparison.”
For the Bearcats’ defense, Northwest tops the conference in rushing defense and ranks No. 10 in the country, giving up 84.4 yards per game. The Bearcats have kept seven of its 11 opponents to less than 100 yards rushing this season and held each of their last three opponents to less than 81 yards.
Harding leads the nation in rushing yards per game with 393.8. The Bisons’ lowest output in rushing yards this season came against Ouachita Baptist when the Bisons were held to 219 rushing yards. The Bisons come into Bearcat Stadium having rushed for 400 or more yards in six straight games.
“I think we have some of the best fans, definitely in the MIAA, maybe in the country,” Phillips said. “I feel like it’s hard to come into Bearcat Stadium especially when we get everybody loud. I know they do a lot of checks … just a little bit of confusion on the front is going to help.”
Northwest’s first home playoff game in three years will kick off Saturday at 1 p.m. The winner of this game will play the winner of the Ouachita Baptist-Lindenwood game on Nov. 30.