MARYVILLE, Mo. — The Northwest Missouri State University football team responded with a win after its first loss of the season and will look continue its winning ways as another struggling team comes to Maryville Saturday.
After defeating the second-worst team in the MIAA, the Bearcats (7-1, 7-1 MIAA) will welcome in the worst team, Northeastern State (0-8, 0-8 MIAA), for Military Appreciation Day.
Northwest got out to a slow start against Lincoln as they fell down 7-0 in the first quarter. The deficit wouldn’t last long though as the Bearcats would get two quick scores from senior running back Justin Rankin and a five-touchdown performance from sophomore quarterback Braden Wright would propel the Cats to a 56-9 win.
“I felt like at times we played very well,” coach Rich Wright said. “I didn’t like the way we started offensively. We had a slow start again offensively. … There are little emphasis things we’re looking at this week. We’re working continuously defensively on the passing game. It’s got to be better on all three levels.”
With the victory, Northwest became the seventh NCAA Division II school all-time to collect 600 wins. The Bearcats’ overall record is 600-403-33.
The Cats turn their attention to the RiverHawks who bring a winless record into their tenth matchup. History favors Northwest as the Bearcats are 9-0 against Northeastern State, outscoring the RiverHawks 455-99 while creating an average margin of victory of 38.8 points per game.
“For a team that’s winless, they actually move the ball pretty well,” junior defensive lineman Mike Ehlke said. “There front five holds a lot which is to be expected but their record doesn’t show how well they move the ball offensively.”
Northeastern State is led by first-year coach J.J. Eckert. The Tahlequah native came from the junior college ranks as he found success at Kilgore College, winning the Southwest Junior College Football Conference regular-season championship three times.
Northwest’s offense seemingly got back on track against the Blue Tigers after scoring 17 points against Nebraska-Kearney. The Bearcats’ No. 8 scoring offense, averaging 44.1 points per game, was able to put 56 points on the scoreboard.
Scoring has come easy for Northwest when it gets within 20 yards of the endzone as the Bearcats have the No. 1 red zone offense in the country. Northwest has scored on 25 of its 26 trips to the red zone with the only time it didn’t score being a kneel down to end the game.
The defensive unit didn’t allow a point as pick-six and a safety was the only means of offense for Lincoln as the Cats rank first in the MIAA in scoring defense, giving up 21.1 points per game, and rushing defense, forfeiting 98.5 yards per game.
By the time the fourth quarter rolls around, Northwest’s defense is at its peak. The Bearcats have outscored their opponents in the final quarter of play 76-20 this season. Last week, Lincoln ran seven plays in three possessions and had -4 yards in the fourth quarter.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Rich Wright said about his defense. “We want to be great in all components of our defense and so that’s why one of the things we’ve talked about is trying to get better against the pass because that’s been the one area that teams have had some success early in the season.”
Military Appreciation Day against Northeastern State is set to kick off at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Bearcat Stadium.
“Everybody in our complex is very aware that we get everybody’s best shot,” Rich Wright said. “They’re going to come up here and fight.”