Defense leads defending national champions to a second-round victory

When Northwest Missouri State senior defensive end Collin Bevins learned that the Bearcats held Emporia State to a minus 30 yards rushing, he smiled and shook his head in amazement.

“That was pretty awesome,” Bevins said. “Coming into the game, we knew we had to stop the run, and if we stopped the run, we would win the game.”

The Bearcats, winners of their last 27 games, unleashed a championship-style defense in their 44-13 victory over Emporia State in Super Region Three second-round playoff game Saturday afternoon in Maryville, Mo.

Emporia State entered the game feeling good about itself after a 59-26 victory last week against Minnesota Duluth. It so happens that Minnesota Duluth is the last team to beat Northwest Missouri State. But the Bearcats are much different from the team that lost at Duluth in the first round of the 2014 playoffs.

For one, the defensive line, which consists of Bevins and Cass Weitl, is now full of seniors. They excel at stuffing the run and putting pressure on the quarterback.

“It is the best I have ever seen,” Emporia State coach Garin Higgins said about Northwest Mo. St.’s defense. “There is no question in my mind. I went against some very good defenses at Northwest, but their front four is so good. They control the line of scrimmage the best I have seen.”

One reason Emporia State rushed for a negative 30 yards was because of the seven sacks recorded by the Bearcats.

“We knew the key to the game was inside pressure,” Bevins said. “If we got the inside pressure, that would leave me and Cass on the outside with 1-on-1 with the tackles. If we did that, it would lead us to hunt and have a good day. We executed the game plan.”

Bevins had 3.5 sacks, which lifted him into first on Northwest Missiouri State’s career sack list with 33.

The old mark was 30.5 by Matt Longacre, who is now playing for the Los Angeles Rams.

“It means a lot,” Bevins said. “To be mentioned in the same sentence as Matt Longacre and see what he is doing in the NFL now. It is just an honor for me.”

Next for Northwest, 12-0, is a home game against Harding, 13-0, in the quarterfinals at Bearcat Stadium in Maryville, Mo.

Harding went on the road and pulled out a 27-24 overtime win against undefeated Sioux Falls on Saturday.

Junior placekicker Tristan Parsley had a game he will remember for a longtime. With six seconds left in regulation and trailing 24-21, Harding needed a 47-yard field goal from Parsley to send the game into overtime. Parsley nailed it and then hit a 35-yard, game-winning field goal in overtime.

Last year’s runner-up remains alive

After falling short in last year’s national championship game for its only loss of the season, Shepherd has gone through the 2016 season with an added incentive to return to Kansas City, Kan., for another shot at the title.

The Rams kept those hopes alive with a 40-21 road victory at LIU Post on Saturday and improved to 12-0. It was LIU Post's first loss of the season.

Shepherd posted a 40-21 win over LIU Post.
Shepherd Athletics
Shepherd posted a 40-21 win over LIU Post.
Shepherd faces another tough test next Saturday when it returns to the road to take on California (Pa.), which is also undefeated.

In the win over LIU Post, senior quarterback Jeff Ziemba completed 25 of 35 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns.

The Rams also had a strong rushing attack, led by freshman Brandon Hiavach, who had 177 yards in 21 carries.

Grand Valley State stays undefeated; gets rematch with Ferris State

Grand Valley State used a prolific offense to beat Texas A&M-Commerce 55-32 on Saturday. The Lakers set a school record for total yards in a playoff game with 598 yards. The previous mark was 562 versus East Stroudsburg in a 2005 Division II semifinal game.

Grand Valley State, 12-0 and ranked No. 2 in the top 25 for most of the season, takes on Ferris State next Saturday at Grand Valley State. Ferris State is 11-2. One of its two losses came on Oct. 8 at Grand Valley State. The Lakers won 35-23.

A year ago, Ferris State beat Grand Valley State 61-24 in the regular season but lost 38-34 in a second-round playoff game at Ferris State.

Expect a huge crowd for this rivalry matchup. In the regular-season game on Oct. 8, a Grand Valley State record crowd of 16,889 showed up at Lubbers Stadium.

North Alabama continues to roll

Based on their history of success in Division II football, it is easy to say that North Alabama is among a handful schools who are the blue bloods of Division II football. Northwest Missouri State and Grand Valley State are two others that quickly come to mind.

The Lions are joining those two schools in the quarterfinals after beating UNC Pembroke 41-17 Saturday at Braly Stadium.

North Alabama, 9-1, will take on North Greenville next Saturday at Braly Stadium. North Greenville, 9-4, is the biggest surprise in the 2016 playoffs, reaching Super Region Two final as the No. 6 seed.

On Oct. 22, North Alabama beat North Greenville 52-21 at Braly Stadium.

The Lions are playing solid defense. They have allowed a total of 27 points in their last three games.

“We want to celebrate tonight and be happy we won, be happy we're going to the finals of the South Regional,” North Alabama coach Bobby Wallace said on the school’s website. “It's a great accomplishment. We've had a great season and I'm very proud of them, but we want to move on.”