Dec. 6, 2009

By John Fey
Special to

MARYVILLE, Mo. -- Many among the 7,122 watching Northwest Missouri State's 56-31 victory over California (Pa.) University likely were unaware that a former University of Florida quarterback was performing Saturday night at Bearcat Stadium.

That's right: Cal U. quarterback Josh Portis played behind Chris Leak at Florida before finding his way to Cal U under coach John Luckhardt. Portis dazzled in a losing effort, throwing for 367 yards and three touchdowns.

"We were competitive tonight because of this guy," Luckhardt said after the game while pointing to his quarterback. "He's a champion."

Portis threw all three of his scoring passes in the second half, the last coming with 10:47 left when he found Dominique Curry for 15 yards. He also scampered for 49 yards but was sacked for 27 yards in losses.

Luckhardt praised the junior quarterback not so much for Saturday night as the entire season.

"We were 0-2," the coach said. "He wasn't where we were at now. I'm more proud of where he's at now. He's broken a lot of records."

Portis tipped his helmet to the Northwest defenders.

"They looked like a D-I team," he said.

Neither the coach nor his quarterback can wait to see what will happen in 2010 when Portis returns for one more season.

"I'm definitely looking forward to next season," Portis said. "We'll see you all next year."

RECEIVERS BOOSTS VULCANS: Lost in all the accolades for Northwest's standout receiver, Jake Soy, was the effort turned in by Cal U receivers Terrance Moore and A.J. Jackson.

Moore, a junior out of Key West, Fla., grabbed seven Portis passes for 176 yards and a score, and Jackson added another 111 yards on seven catches and a TD.

IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER: Luckhardt and Northwest's Mel Tjeerdsma have a long-standing relationship, but that shouldn't be surprising since they've been in the D-II coaching ranks so many years. The two have combined for 433 wins. Luckhardt made it a point after the game to mention their bond.

"Mel has been a friend for a long time," Luckhardt said. "He deserves to win. He's a tremendous coach and has a heck of a football team."

Luckhardt later managed to crack this one: "I'm a little older than Mel, but I'm better-looking than him."

LOOKING AHEAD TO FINAL: With their NCAA-record fifth straight semifinal win in hand, the Bearcats quickly turned their attention to Grand Valley State, next Saturday's opponent in Florence, Ala.

"We're excited about moving on," Tjeerdsma said. "The guys will tell you we're not done."

Northwest senior running back LaRon Council said the team is tired of finishing second the last four seasons.

"It's a great feeling to win the semifinal again," said Council, who ran for a career-high 216 yards. "Our ultimate goal is to win in Alabama. (Reaching the final) is nothing new to me. I think we've just got to execute and we'll do fine."

BITS AND PIECES: Saturday marked the third straight semifinal appearance for Cal U. ... With his first touchdown pass against Cal U, Bearcats quarterback Blake Bolles broke Chris Greisen's 1998 school record for most touchdown passes, topping Greisen's 38. ... The Vulcans, who rushed for a season-high 276 yards last week against West Liberty, became just the fourth team to run for 100 yards against Northwest this season --  but just barely with a net of 115.