Editor’s Note: The Bearcat football season opener would have been last Thursday against Fort Hays State if it weren’t for the COVID-19 pandemic. In lieu of Bearcat game stories this year, The Forum is revisiting some of the best games in Northwest Missouri State history against the teams they would have played. This week, The Forum spoke with former defensive back Brandon Clayton about Northwest’s 17-10 win over Fort Hays State on Oct. 20, 2007, in Hays, Kan.
The 2007 Northwest Missouri State football team knew a thing or two about winning close games during that season in which they advanced to the national championship game.
Coming off of an overtime win over Pittsburg State and a 28-26 win over Central Missouri, the Bearcats faced a road trip to Hays, which is never an easy place to play.
“They weren’t quite kicking down the door with big wins like they are now, including a couple against us two years ago and the year before that,” Clayton said. “They were always just tough to play, especially out there. That is what I remember more than anything. If you go out to Hays, you better buckle up your chinstrap because that was one of the toughest places to play.”
The Bearcat defense got off to a hot start with a sack by Clayton helping to set up a punt.
“I think I had a sack early in the game on a corner blitz and I remember coming to the sideline and (defensive coordinator Scott) Bostwick was telling me it took me forever to get there,” Clayton recalled.
The defenses exchanged stops until Northwest quarterback Joel Osborn entered the game in relief of Josh Mathews and completed two quick passes to Mike Peterson and Josh Gannan. The success in the passing game set up Northwest star running back Xavier Omon for 5-yard touchdown run.
The defense held the Tiger offense scoreless again with a sack by Dallas Flynn ending the drive. Matthews was back in the game on the ensuing possession and completed five passes including a 31-yard reception by Abe Quoud. The drive resulted in a field goal and a 10-0 lead.
The Bostwick-coached defense held the Tigers to a three-and-out. The sequence featured another sack, this one by Caleb Dohrman.
“We just tried to play hard, play physical and just be well prepared,” Clayton said. “That is probably the No. 1 thing that I remember. Him (Bostwick), Coach (Rich) Wright, Coach (Will) Wagner at the time, all had us really dialed in and ready to play.
“It was just the standard that you had to live up to being at Northwest. Week in and week out, you had to come ready to play, and he (Bostwick) was good at getting us fired up. If you weren’t playing up to his standard, he wasn’t bashful in letting you know about it and getting the most out of you every single week. He was just really fun to play for.”
The offense continued the momentum with its third-straight scoring drive. This one capped by a 4-yard Omon touchdown to make it 17-0 with 4:08 left in the half.
Omon finished the game with 27 carries for 151 yards and two touchdowns. That season, Omon rushed for a Bearcat record 2,337 yards with 37 rushing touchdowns — another Bearcat record.
“I came in with him when he was a freshman and watched his work ethic to get where he was by the time he was a senior,” Clayton said. “Obviously his freshman, sophomore and junior years were all really good years, but his senior year was unbelievable, he carried us especially as we got late into the year.
“He definitely raised the standard for playing running back at Northwest and he was a big part of what we did.”
The Tigers managed to stay in the game with a 12-play touchdown drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown run with 30 seconds left before the half.
A Mathews interception followed by each team exchanging punts meant the Tigers started their second drive of the half in Bearcat territory. The Northwest defense was able to hold the Tigers to a field goal, but the kick cut the lead to 17-10 with 6:40 left in the third.
The Bearcat offense struggled for the rest of the game as a 3-and-out put the defense right back on the field.
After the Bearcats forced a punt, Omon fumbled and the Tigers took over in Bearcat territory again, but a third-down sack by Chris Termini made sure the Tigers came away with no points.
“The offense kind of struggled that day, but that is your job as a defense to pick those guys up and find a way to win a football game,” Clayton said.
The Bearcat offense leaned on Omon for the next drive went 47 yards on 12 plays. The drive ended in a punt, but bled over six minutes off of the clock — setting the defense up to need one last stop.
Northwest got that stop when a Doorman sack set up a 4th-and-21 and Northwest was able to pick up the fourth down stop. Omon ran off the rest of the clock and Northwest escaped Hays.
“He embodied everything that Northwest was: playing together and as a team,” Clayton said of Bostwick. “He didn’t care if we won that game 55-50 or if we won 17-10, all he wanted to do was win. That kind of rubbed off on everybody.”
Clayton says that year’s team just had a gift with close games as they kept finding themselves in them.
“Once you’ve been in some of those games and they are close, you kind of expect to win,” Clayton said. “… It was crazy. That was fun.”
Clayton still bleeds Bearcat green as he transitioned into a graduate assistant role after his playing days. He then joined the coaching staff at Morningside — an NAIA school in Sioux City, Iowa — before returning to Northwest in 2015.
He is currently the special teams coordinator, defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator.
“I really kind of feel like it was what I was born to do,” Clayton said. “It is awesome to be a coach. Not only the X’s and O’s with football, but also to help people reach their goals from the moment they come out of high school all the way through and as I get older, and look back to see them have successful lives afterwards.”
Clayton says he has taken many lessons from mentors like coach Mel Tjeerdsma, Bostwick and Wright, but one of the biggest revolves around building relationships with players and cultivating the team’s culture.
“It is all about the kids, what is best for them and caring for them,” Clayton said. “If you are doing that job, I think you are going to be alright as a football coach. Obviously you have to work really hard, improve schematically and recruiting, and do all of those things. But it is truly about family.
“That is what makes Northwest special.”