Dec. 12, 2009

Photo Gallery  | Sidebar: Bearcats Finally Get Over Hump


By Rubin E. Grant
Special to
The Northwest Missouri Bearcats finally kicked in the door to a Division II national football championship, but not before almost stubbing their toes.
Blake Bolles' 26-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Jake Soy with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter clinched the second-ranked Bearcats' 30-23 victory against the third-ranked Grand Valley State Lakers (13-2) Saturday afternoon at Braly Municipal Stadium.
A crowd of 6,211 watched Northwest Missouri (14-1) erase four years of frustration by winning its first championship since claiming back-to-back titles in 1998 and 1999. The Bearcats, making their record fifth consecutive title game appearance, had finished as runners-up the previous four years, including twice losing to Grand Valley, in 2005 and 2006.
"I'm thrilled for these guys and for the Bearcats," Northwest Missouri coach Mel Tjeerdsma said. "We've worked so hard for this and we've prepared hard. This was our goal. We probably didn't look like much in week one (a season-opening 19-14 loss to Abilene Christian), but these guys have come a long way."
Northwest Missouri had squandered most of a 21-0 halftime lead and led only 23-20 after Grand Valley's Blake Smolen scored on a 2-yard run on a sweep around right end with 12:26 remaining in the fourth quarter. Smolen's touchdown capped an 11-play, 71-yard drive that consumed 7:20.
The Bearcats' Tyler Shaw returned the ensuing kickoff 22 yards to the Grand Valley 47-yard line and a personal foul penalty for a late hit out of bounds moved the ball to 32.
Northwest Missouri struggled for three downs to go anywhere and faced fourth-and-4 at the 26 when Bolles and Soy connected on a fade route to the right for a touchdown that increased the Bearcats' lead to 30-20.
"It was a run-pass check play where I saw them one-on-one with Soy," Bolles said. "We decided to run the fade route. After the ball was snapped, I saw he got a good release and I just threw it up to him and he went up and got it. He's been doing it all year."
Bolles finished the game with 198 yards passing, completing 15-of-23 attempts with a touchdown and one interception. Soy caught nine passes for 118 yards and a TD.
Following the touchdown, Grand Valley drove 70 yards in 12 plays to score on Jay Jandasek's 21-yard field goal to pull the Lakers within 30-23 with 4:26 remaining.
Grand Valley attempted an onsides kick, but the ball was awarded to Northwest Missouri at the Lakers' 39 because it touched a Grand Valley player before it traveled 10 yards.
The Lakers got the ball once more with 2:59 remaining at their 20, but wound up turning it over on downs at their 44 with 52 seconds left, allowing the Bearcats to run out the clock.
Northwest Missouri opened the game by scoring on its first three possessions. The Bearcats marched 76 yards in six quick plays in 1:53, the first time they had the ball. Senior running back LaRon Council capped the drive with a 14-yard touchdown run up the middle.
On their next possession, the Bearcats put together a long, methodical 16-play, 97-yard scoring drive, consuming 6:21. Bolles scored untouched on a 4-yard run on a bootleg around left end after a nifty fake-handoff to Council, giving Northwest Missouri a 14-0 lead with 12:51 remaining in the first half.
Freshman Jordan Simmons' 48-yard punt return to the Grand Valley 17-yard line set up the Bearcats' next touchdown. Council burst 17 yards off left guard on the first play from scrimmage to score, putting Northwest Missouri ahead 21-0 with 12:11 remaining in the half.
Council rushed for 172 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns. He had 136 yards on 16 attempts in the first half.
The Bearcats were denied a touchdown late in the second quarter when fullback Previn Perry was stripped of the ball at the goal line by Grand Valley's James Wojciehowski. It appeared Perry's forward progress had been stopped before he lost the ball, but progress plays are not reviewable by replay.
Grand Valley took advantage of an interception and two penalties to score to open the third quarter. Lakers outside linebacker Gary Anderson picked off a Bolles pass at the Bearcats' 48. A few players later, Northwest Missouri free safety Myles Burnsides intercepted a pass and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown, but it was nullified because Burnsides was flagged for pass interference.
A personal foul penalty against the Bearcats nose guard Shayne Shade gave the Lakers the ball at the Northwest Missouri 8. From there, Grand Valley quarterback Brad Iciek threw a touchdown pass to tight end Andrew Lorman.
Northwest Missouri's Kyle Sunderman blocked the extra point and teammate Ryan Jones picked it and returned it for a defensive extra point, increasing the Bearcats' lead to 23-6.
Grand Valley pulled within 23-13 midway through the third quarter when Iciek hooked up with wide receiver Ryan Bass on a 33-yard scoring strike.
Iciek completed 28-of-49 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
The Lakers got the ball back when freshman cornerback Chris Crawford jarred the ball loose from Simmons and teammate Ricky Shorkey recovered it at the Grand Valley 29, leading to Smolen's touchdown.
"From our standpoint, obviously the story of the game was the first half," Grand Valley coach Chuck Martin said. "They ran the ball with Council and we could not tackle him.
"Offensively, we felt we had some things going and we had some good looks, but we didn't execute."
Grand Valley was playing in its sixth championship game since 2001. The Lakers won titles in 2002, 03, 05, 06 and finished as runners-up in 2001.