Dec. 12, 2009

By Rubin E. Grant
Special to
As the second-ranked Northwest Missouri State Bearcats advanced deeper into the Division II football playoffs this season, senior running back LaRon Council couldn’t help but think about last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that.
For four consecutive years, the Bearcats reached the championship game and walked off the field at Braly Municipal Stadium without a title.
Council was determined it wouldn’t happen again this year, not in his senior season.
It didn’t. Council rushed for 172 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns and coming up with a clutch 18-yard reception to set up the clinching score in the fourth quarter as second-ranked Northwest Missouri (14-1) defeated the third-ranked Grand Valley State Lakers 30-23 Saturday to win the 2009 Division II championship.
“Before we played California (Pa.) in the semifinals, I told the coaches and the players I wouldn’t be the guy to let down the seniors because I remember how the seniors felt last year when we lost,” Council said. “The coaching staff put a lot of confidence in me by giving me the ball.”
Council rushed for a career-high 216 yards and a touchdown in the Bearcats’ 56-31 semifinal victory.
He began the championship game as if he would set a new career high. He rushed for 39 yards on three carries during the Bearcats’ opening possession and capped the six-play, 76-yard march with a 14-yard touchdown run.
Early in the second quarter, he scored again on a 17-yard run. He finished the first half with 136 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 16 carries as Northwest Missouri built a 21-0 halftime lead against Grand Valley.
“They ran the ball with Council and we could not tackle him,” Grand Valley coach Chuck Martin said.
Generously listed at 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, and with a low center of gravity, Council is tough to bring down.
“He gets a lot of yards after contact,” Northwest Missouri coach Mel Tjeerdsma said. “He’s got strong legs. We fed him a lot of cheeseburgers and hamburgers this week to keep his legs strong.”
Council laughed at his coach’s remarks.
“I just have that will to get extra yards,” Council said.
The Lakers kept Council in check the second half as they climbed back into contention, pulling within 23-20 with 12:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.
But Council had one more big play left. The Bearcats were facing a third-and-22 at the Grand Valley 44-yard line on their next possession. Quarterback Blake Bolles was under heavy pressure and was forced to scramble when he found Council in the left flat.
Somehow, Council managed to shred a few defenders and gain 18 yards. On the next play – fourth-and-4 – Bolles threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jake Soy to give Northwest Missouri a 30-20 lead with 10:00 remaining.
“The touchdown was big,” Tjeerdsma said, “but don’t forget about the play LaRon made. He did his job by being the outlet and caught that pass for 18 yards. He’s got great hands. He makes big plays.”
When the final seconds ticked off the clock and Northwest Missouri had wiped away four years of frustration and won its first title since claiming back-to-back crowns in 1998 and 1999, Council fell to his knees.
“I just said a little prayer to thank God first,” Council said. “I don’t think this has sunk in yet. To come here four years in a row and come up short, and then to win it, I wouldn’t want to go out any other way. This was our ultimate goal. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
The victory also was special for Tjeerdsma, who became the only the second head coach to win three Division II titles, joining Bobby Wallace, who accomplished the feat with North Alabama from 1993-95.