MIAA Showdown between Northwest Missouri State and Emporia State
On very rare occasions will Northwest Missouri State football coach Adam Dorrel bring a freshman to the weekly media luncheon. Tuesday was one of those times.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver/punt and kickoff returner Shawn Bane Jr., was one of two Bearcats brought to the luncheon to be the voice of the Northwest players about the most important game of the season.
Northwest, 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in Super Region Three, takes on Emporia State, 8-1 and ranked No. 5 in region, at 6 p.m. CT Saturday at Bearcat Stadium. The game will be televised on American Sports Network.
“It is a privilege honestly,” Bane Jr. said of playing on television. “But I treat every game the same. I take the same approach and go 1-0 every week.”
The level-headed approach is why Dorrel trust Bane Jr. to say the right thing off the field and do the right thing on the field where he leads the team in receiving with 40 receptions for 641 yards and four touchdowns.
“I think he is a game changer,” Dorrel said. “He has a very special skill set for this level. The fact he is just a redshirt freshman makes it even more dynamic. He can stretch a field vertically. The thing with him is he catches the ball well. He is not a kid who is just fast.”
The defense definitely appreciates the play of newcomers such as Bane Jr., said junior defensive back Kevin Berg, who has six interceptions in the last three games.
“I felt they have done an amazing job,” Berg said. “We knew coming in we had a younger team. A lot of people worried about that. I trust each guy to do their job, guys like Shawn going out there and making amazing plays on offense. That is a huge bonus for us on defense.”
A win by Northwest will clinch the MIAA title and keep the Bearcats first in the regional rankings, which is important.
The NCAA Division II football playoffs were expanded from 24 to 28 teams this season. In the past, the top two seeds in each of the four regions received a first round bye. This year only the top seed gets a bye and the other six teams will play in the first round.
The only thing on the Bearcats mind is Emporia State and trying to secure an outright conference title instead of possibly sharing it. But the Bearcats understand they are facing a difficult opponent.
“We are very excited to go out and play these guys,” Berg said. “They are a very talented football team. They have a lot of weapons. We have a tough week ahead of us.”
Like Bane Jr., Berg is looking forward to playing on television.
“Oh definitely, going out and playing a night game is always a fun environment,” Berg said. “We are going to have a lot of fans out there. Being on national television is a huge plus. Families are able to watch this game. A lot of people around the nation can see what we can do.”
Series history: Northwest Missouri leads 27-2
Last meeting: Northwest won 42-14 at Emporia State on Nov. 8, 2014
Total offense: Emporia State, 493.3; Northwest Missouri, 413.3
Total defense: Emporia State, 392.4; Northwest Missouri, 223.1
Points scored: Emporia State, 36.7; Northwest Missouri, 40.4
Points allowed: Emporia State, 24.3; Northwest Missouri, 22.4
Big road game for Minnesota State-Mankato
It was important for Minnesota State-Mankato to take the same focused approach in practice right after the surprising home loss to Winona State on Oct. 24, said senior defensive end Josh Gordon.
“After we took that loss, the coaches said if we prepare any differently then shame on us for not preparing the same way each week and having that high intensity,” Gordon said. “We need to do what we do every week.”
But the 31-27 loss to Winona State was a wake-up call for the Mavericks, who spent most of the season as the No. 1 team in NCAA Division II. The following week they made sure one loss didn’t turn into two by winning 55-17.
“It was very important, but the most important thing is we came out with energy and passion,” Gordon said. “We might have got a little complacent, a little full of ourselves.
“The loss caused us to take a big look in the mirror and re-evaluate what we are doing on an everyday basis and how we were going to take it to the next level and improve every day.”
Mankato, 8-1 will definitely need to bring that same energy when it travels to Sioux Falls for a noon CT Saturday kickoff in a game that will be televised by ESPN 3. Sioux Falls is also 8-1. Sioux Falls is ranked No. 4 in Super Region Three and Mankato is ranked No. 6.
Simply put, Saturday’s game is almost like a playoff game for both teams just to make the playoffs.
“It is nice having a big game closer to the playoff s so it ups the intensity towards the end of the year,” Gordon said.
The returners for the Mavericks feel like they have some unfinished business. A year ago they lost in the NCAA Division II championship game.
“It definitely fuels us,” Gordon said. “We definitely have that goal to get back to the national championship. I don’t think we think about the loss as much as thinking about what is ahead of us.”
The Mavericks, Gordon said, have been winning as a team. Their locker room is a family. Players know each other well enough to know just how to push each other to do their best and not slack off.
“Being that close, we are able to get on each other without taking things personally,” Gordon said. “If I am slacking, somebody will get on me. It doesn’t go to a personal level. You need to be better because we need you to be better because we know you can be better. It definitely helped us overcome that loss and move forward.”
It is doubtful any of the Mavericks’ opponents have thought Gordon was taking it easy. He has recorded 13 sacks so far this year. He credits his teammates for that success.
“It is everybody,” Gordon said. “Most importantly, it is my coaches putting me in position to be successful. D-linemen keep the quarterback boxed up so I can get to them. Also, it is the coverage. If the receivers are wide open, I can’t get to the quarterback. It is everybody doing their job.”
Gordon is also doing his job in the classroom, majoring in biomedical sciences. Last season he made the NSIC All-Academic team. He hopes to get accepted into medical school or pharmacy school.
“I know other players on the team also get this award,” Gordon said. “Student-athletes all over we have it pretty hard. We have to go to practice, get treatment if we have injuries and watch film. There is a lot put on our plate.
“To receive an award like this show all the hard work that me and others have put in to do well in the classroom. There are other things that are important.”