Nov. 20, 2010

Courtesy of Northwest Missouri State

Northwest Missouri State went into halftime trailing by 17 points against rival Missouri Western. The situation looked bleak.

The Bearcats went into halftime knowing it had to cut out their on-field chatter with Missouri Western players or their run in the NCAA Division II playoffs would end in the first round.

For a program that has made five consecutive trips to the national championship game, that's unacceptable.

"We talked at halftime about worrying about ourselves," said Northwest senior quarterback Blake Bolles.

"We just tuned it in and did it together."

Indeed.

From weekly play-makers like senior tight end Josh Baker to little known players such as junior wide receiver Taylor Pierce and senior safety Marciele Surrell, the Bearcats rose up as one.

The total team effort resulted in another remarkable triumph. Northwest moves on to the second round after beating Western 28-24 Saturday afternoon at Bearcat Stadium.

It was the largest deficit Northwest has ever overcome to win in 41 playoff games.

"This is the best way ever to win a game," said senior safety Marciele Surrell. "If you don't work for it, it is not worth anything. You have to work for it."

Western coach Jerry Partridge saw that his team had chances to win. In fact, the Griffons started their final drive at their 21 with 2:56 left and moved to Northwest's 42 with 1:19 left.

A sack for an 11-yard loss sealed Western's fate.

"We had our chances to knock them through the ropes in the first half and we didn't," Partridge said.

"Who doesn't come up short to Northwest? Everybody comes up short right now. I think (coach) Mel (Tjeerdsma) needs to go out to pasture."

Well, that's not happening anytime soon.

Next up for Northwest, 10-1, is another rematch game. The Bearcats will play at Texas A&M-Kingsville, 10-1, next Saturday. In the season-opener, Northwest lost 16-7 at home to Kingsville.

In order to avenge that loss, Northwest will have to quickly forget about an unforgettable victory.

The comeback featured a 49-yard touchdown run by Baker off a fake punt to give Northwest its first points of the game early in the third quarter.

"It was a huge momentum change on the fake punt," Tjeerdsma said. "We've been working that for a while."

Later in the third, Pierce made his first catch of the season. It went for 32 yards and put the ball on Western's 2.

Bolles had complete confidence that Pierce would make the clutch catch. He said he sees Pierce make those kinds of catches all the time in practice. Pierce just needed the opportunity.

"He has faith in all of us to catch the ball," Pierce said. "We knew we weren't out of it at halftime."

Simmons scored on the next play to close the gap to 17-14.

And early in the fourth quarter, with Northwest trailing 24-21, Surrell made his first career interception that gave the Bearcats the ball at the Western 49. Senior free safety Aldwin Foster-Rettig helped Surrell by first tipping the pass in the air.

"I had to make a big play," said Surrell, who got the perfect present on his 23rd birthday. "We were kind of getting burned over the top. We had to come together as a team. I knew a play needed to be made so when it was in the air I knew I had to go up and get it."

The Bearcats went on a 9-play drive and scored on a 9-yard run by Kelvin Austin that gave Northwest its first lead of the game at 28-24 with 8:10 left.

"I felt I didn't have a real great game," Austin said. "But when the team needed me, I made the play and it felt real good."

None of those performances surprised Tjeerdsma. He expected his 20 seniors to rise up to the challenge they faced in the second half.

"We didn't play Bearcat football in the first half," Tjeerdsma said. "There was way too much individual stuff and worrying about everything except what we should be worried about.

"I think our guys really came together."

Northwest played its worst first-half of the season and it came at a bad time: the playoffs.

"We blew a few opportunities in the first half and they really got us on our heels," Tjeerdsma said.

The Bearcats went into halftime down 17-0 and never got the ball inside Missouri Western's 20.

"We just couldn't get it done on that last drive," Western senior quarterback Drew Newhart said. "We felt like we were invincible when we came into the game. "We had nothing to lose and they had everything to lose."

The Griffons found out in a painful way that the Bearcats know how to play in those circumstances.

Newhart threw for 294 yards and three scores. Bolles passed for 242 yards and a score. But Baker was the difference. He finished with eight catches for 74 yards and totaled two touchdowns on the day including the 46-yard, fake punt run.