MARYVILLE, Mo. -- When the wind chill is zero, the running game takes on more importance. Northwest Missouri State proved that to St. Cloud State on Saturday afternoon in frostbite weather at Bearcat Stadium.
Freshman running back Phil Jackson II rushed for four touchdowns and senior running back Billy Creason added three more on the ground as the Bearcats came away with an impressive 59-21 victory in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals.
“It is getting that time of the year where we need to see a kick start to our running game,” Northwest head coach Adam Dorrel said. “I thought we got that [Saturday]. I am really proud of our guys. I feel like they bought into that.
“Obviously, Billy ran well and Phil was able to come in and do some things.”
That is an understatement. The combined seven rushing touchdowns shattered the school playoff record of four rushing touchdowns, established on six different occasions.
Jackson goes into the record book with Xavier Omon and LaRon Council with four rushing touchdowns in one playoff game.
All those rushing touchdowns led to the biggest margin of victory in Northwest’s storied playoff history. The previous mark was 35 set last year in the Bearcats’ 35-0 win over Harding.
“Congratulations to Northwest,” St. Cloud head coach Scott Underwood said. “It was a great job by them. They are a very good football team. Obviously, we felt we didn’t play quite to our best potential, but they had a lot of reasons for us playing that way.”
Northwest, 13-0, moves on to the semifinals and will face Grand Valley State next Saturday at Bearcat Stadium. The last time the Bearcats faced Grand Valley in the playoffs they won 30-23 in the Division II championship game.
“It is very special,” said Northwest junior linebacker D.J. Gnader about playing the semifinal game at home. “I am pumped up. There is no other place better than Bearcat Stadium. Our fans do a great job coming out and supporting us.
“I am so excited about next week that I wish it was tomorrow.”
The Bearcats had plenty of success through the air. Senior quarterback Trevor Adams completed 18 of 21 passes for 212 yards and back-up Brady Bolles connected on all three of his passes for 33 yards before he left the game in the second quarter with an injury.
And the defense played its usual stellar game, shutting out the Huskies in the first half.
“Our defense played really well again,” Dorrel said. “That was a good offensive team we went against. They got a lot of weapons.”
But it was the way Creason and Jackson ran the ball that really sucked the life out of the Huskies. They pounded the ball up the middle, especially when the Bearcats got close to the goal line.
“It is a big ego boost for the running backs,” Creason said. “Like coach said, we stress running the ball in December. We stressed we had to control up front and they did and that made it easy to run the ball.
“Our line was very physical. We saw people lying on the ground all day. And Trevor was able complete passes, which was big, especially in cold weather.”
It was a spectacular performance all around for the Bearcats, particularly the way they quickly reacted to the only threat that came their way in the second half.
St. Cloud received the ball to start the third quarter and used nearly 6 minutes to go 75 yards in 12 plays. The Huskies scored on a 17-yard pass from Phillip Klaphake to Dan Brown, making it 28-7.
Northwest needed only 12 seconds to respond. Sophomore Bryce Enyard returned the kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown to give the Bearcats a 35-7 lead.
“I know we had a big lead, but they drove down the field and scored and got the momentum,” Dorrel said. “For us to get that was important. He popped it. He really showed his speed.”
For the seventh consecutive week, Northwest made sure there was no late-game drama. The Bearcats have won each of those games by at least 24 points.
Northwest came two plays short of a perfect first half. A fumble deep in St. Cloud’s territory in the game’s opening drive and a low throw on third down in another drive.
And if you are nitpicking, the Bearcats defense did give up three first downs in the first two quarters.
Truthfully, Northwest coaches will need to look at tape into the wee hours to find mistakes in the first 30 minutes. The Bearcats dominated on both sides of the ball and went into halftime leading 28-0.
“We stopped the run early on, which was a big goal for us,” said Northwest junior defensive end Kevin Arnold. “Our offense wanted to run the ball so stopping the run was big for us. “Getting pressure on their play-action pass they are so good at was big for us in the first half.”
The first three series gave clear indication that the Bearcats were in for a good game. They took the opening drive at their 35 and quickly moved to St. Cloud’s 15.
Although the Bearcats fumbled, they prove they could move the ball on the ground and through the air.
St. Cloud took over at its 11, ran three plays and punted.
Northwest got great field position at the Huskies’ 26. The Bearcats needed only five plays to score on a 3-yard run by Creason with 8:32 left in the first quarter.
The Bearcats solidified their lead in the opening minute of the second quarter when Creason scored his second touchdown on a 1-yard run.
St. Cloud picked up its first, first down of the game with 13:32 left in the second quarter. The Huskies even moved to Northwest’s 39, but the drive stalled.
Northwest then put together a 13 play, 85-yard drive that ended on a 1-yard touchdown run by Jackson. Jackson added another touchdown with 30 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Bearcats had 326 yards of total offense and picked up 19 first downs. St. Cloud had just 75 yards of offense and managed just three first downs.
“I am surprised,” said Gnader of the one-sided score. “Their quarterback is a great player. He is a playmaker and they have a great team.
“Defensively, our coaches did a great job of getting us in position to make plays and we executed the game plan they made for us.
“It was just a great day.”