Nov. 22, 2008

Courtesy of Northwest Missouri State

MARYVILLE, Mo.—Northwest Missouri State quarterback Joel Osborn completed a 27-yard pass to Nick Rhodes on fourth-and-10 and on the ensuing play, hit Kendall Wright for a 15-yard touchdown pass and the winning score in a 38-35 win against Pittsburg State Saturday at Bearcat Stadium.

Northwest (11-1) advances to the national quarterfinals for the fifth year in a row where a rematch with Abilene Christian (11-0) in Abilene, Texas, awaits. The Wildcats were a 93-68 winner against West Texas A&M Saturday.

Northwest took a 24-13 lead into halftime and made it 31-13 early in the third quarter on a 29-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Blake Bolles – his only play in the game. A Mark Smith fumble preceded the score and was one of three turnovers by Pittsburg State’s senior quarterback.

Smith accounted for all but two yards on a 10-play, 51-yard touchdown drive on the Gorillas’ ensuing possession. Brandon Clark got the final two yards to close the gap to 31-19. A two-point conversion pass from Smith to Ricky Ludeman made it 31-21.

A dropped pass led to a Northwest punt and a 12-play touchdown drive by the Gorillas followed. Clark’s second 2-yard run made it 31-28 near the end of the third quarter.

The two teams exchanged punts and a 25-yard return by Harrison Kush gave Pittsburg State the ball at the Northwest 34-yard line with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Smith and Clark combined on seven straight rushes and Clark gave the Gorillas their first lead, 35-31, on his third 2-yard run with 3:34 remaining.

Northwest got a 36-yard return near midfield from Wright. Osborn ran for a first down, but a sack by Brett Shamblin helped lead to a fourth-and-10 from the 42-yard line with 1:20 left.

Chris Swartz blitzed on the fourth-down play and had a free shot at Osborn, who mananged to free himself before firing downfield. Rhodes came back to the underthrown pass before making the completion at the 15.

Osborn found Wright in the left-corner of the end zone with 55 seconds left. Four incompletions by Smith sealed the win.

Smith passed for 185 yards and ran for 123 and a score. His three turnovers led to 21 Northwest points.

Osborn was 17-of-27 for 234 yards and Wright had four catches for 59. LaRon Council carried 18 times for 95 yards and three first-half touchdowns.

Myles Burnsides had a career-high 12 tackles to lead the Bearcats. He also intercepted a pass and forced one of Smith’s two fumbles.

Pittsburg State (11-2) rushed for 223 yards, passed for 234 and outgained Northwest 408-341. The Gorillas were 9-of-17 on third down and 3-of-5 on fourth down.

Osborn and Wright have hooked up for game-winning scores twice in their four-year careers. The duo combined on a 19-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-down play to beat Washburn in Northwest’s homecoming game last season.

Game Notes:

• Council has scored 30 touchdowns this season and rushed for 1,423 yards. He’s scored the fifth-most points in a season in MIAA history.
• Northwest coach Mel Tjeerdsma (23) and Pittsburg State head coach Chuck Broyles (19) are the two winningest postseason coaches in DII history.
• Bearcat kicker Tommy Frevert made a season-long 36-yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining in the first half.
• Smith moved into ninth in MIAA single-season total offense records. His season ended with 3,316 yards of total offense.
• Pittsburg State had four sacks – the second straight game the Gorillas have had four or more sacks.
• Pittsburg State scored on three of four possessions in the second half.
• Northwest has won its last five meetings with Pittsburg State.
• The Bearcats have won 31 consecutive games against MIAA opponents, including three postseason victories.

Pittsburg State Head Coach Chuck Broyles Post-Game Quotes

Opening Comments…
It’s always more fun when you win than lose, of course. We found ways to give them opportunities to win the football game. Even down at the end, if we get a sack or defend a pass, we’re going to win the game. We turned the ball over too many times and gave them good field position. Got down in that game, but played hard. It’s a tribute to our football team, they played extremely hard. Northwest has been one of those teams that’s been able to come back through the years and looked like maybe we were going to sneak one in on them, but it didn’t work out that way.

Northwest Missouri State Head Coach Mel Tjeerdsma Post-Game Quotes

Opening Comments…
I’m thrilled with the win. Our kids got it done when we had to. I was disappointed with out performance in the second half on both sides of the ball, we just didn’t do things very well and obviously you have to give Pitt a lot of credit. Momentum really went there way and they did a good job with it. I guess the only mistake they made was leaving a little too much time on the clock when they scored. But thank goodness for the first half. Some of the things we did the first half – the field goal right before the half was huge. The second half was more survival mode and that’s not the way you play football. We’re going to have to change that, but first playoff game and maybe it showed a little bit. Some of our inexperience that was experience wasn’t experience today, but we’ll move on.

On what was going through his mind in the closing minutes…
What am I going to say to you guys about losing. We’ve done a great job with our two-minute offense. We had a discussion when they were going in to score and depending on the time, we were going to go with our two-minute offense or just try to hurry up and we made the decision to go to our two-minute offense and we were able to sprinkle in a few huddle plays with it. Our kids and coaches kept their composure.

On the play of both quarterbacks…
I thought there were two MVP’s on the field today and both of them were quarterbacks. I have a ton of respect for Mark Smith. I had a chance to talk to him afterwards and he’s such a great competitor. Physically he’s not that big, and he took a beating today. Joel made plays when he had to make plays. That’s what people don’t realize – a guy that carries you. He’s our leader. Everyone looks to him. I don’t care what anyone says – he’s as good an MVP as there’s ever been in this league.