Moments after Northwest Missouri State beat Emporia State 38-17 in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals Saturday afternoon at Bearcat Stadium, senior defensive back Bryce Enyard had no trouble recalling the conclusion of the 2014 season.
Enyard, who sat out one season, felt so bad for the group of players he entered school with, having to deal with a 25-21 loss at Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the playoffs.
Last season’s finale was a sharp contrast to 2013 when Northwest captured its fourth national title at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Ala.
“It was a hard feeling, just seeing it was most of those guys’ final game,” Enyard said. “It really hurt me. I felt like I let them down.
“We remember things from last year and how it was a sick feeling to our stomach. We don’t want to go back there again. In 2013, we remember how great it felt. We preach to the guys we want you to feel what we felt in 2013.”
Northwest, 13-0, will have one more home game this season. The Bearcats, the No. 1 seed in Super Regional Three, will take on West Georgia, the No. 1 seed in Super Regional Two, at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Bearcat Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN3.
The Wolves, 12-1, have the same type of motivation as Northwest. Last year West Georgia lost 10-7 to eventual national champions Colorado State-Pueblo.
Back in the first week of the season, West Georgia senior quarterback Dallas Dickey talked about that season-ending loss.
“It left kind of a bad taste in our mouths,” Dickey said the first week of September. “I feel like maybe we had a chance to win the whole thing last year.
“We are extremely excited to have a good year this year and maybe make another run at it.”
Well, the Wolves are having a great year. They beat Tuskegee 35-6 in their quarterfinal game on Saturday.
Northwest and West Georgia will spend this week preparing for an opportunity to make the national championship game, which will be Dec. 19 at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.
“It is a lot of fun,” said Northwest defensive coordinator Rich Wright about preparing for a team the Bearcats haven’t seen. “It is not going to be a lot of sleep because it is always like cramming for a test. But we love the challenge. We love playing teams from other regions and hopefully we will show up ready to rock and roll.”
Like they have done all season, the Bearcats used youth, experience and strong defense to pick up the win. Sophomore running back Jordan Grove scored two touchdowns.
“It was awesome,” Grove said. “Anything to help the team is good. I just happened to score twice today.”
Other than two long pass plays, Northwest played solid defense. The 17 points the Bearcats gave up were the most since October 24 when they gave up 24. Only twice in 13 games have the Bearcats given up more than 20 points.
“We are pretty talented from front to back,” Wright said. “There aren’t any superstars, but everybody plays well together, and we have a good group on all three levels. Some snaps you have the back end doing their thing. Sometimes it is the front and sometimes you have a linebacker blitzing.
“Our kids are really resilient. They (Hornets) had a couple of plays over the top that we weren’t real happy with. We kept things in front of us and tackled well. It was different kids all day. It was fun to watch.”
Knocking off the defending national champions
Grand Valley State, the No. 6 seed in Super Regional Four, has definitely been the road warriors in the 2015 NCAA Division II playoffs. On Saturday, the Lakers won their third consecutive road game, knocking off defending national champions, CSU-Pueblo 31-7.
Last week Grand Valley handed Ferris State its first loss of the season in the second round of the playoffs. The Lakers started the playoffs at undefeated Ashland.
Grand Valley, 12-2, is back on the road and it will once again face an undefeated team. Shepherd, 12-0, won Super Regional One as the No. 1 seed. Kickoff for the semifinal is noon ET Saturday at Ram Stadium in Shepherdstown, W. Va.
Defense played a key role in the Lakers beating CSU-Pueblo.
“We've played some good defense so I don't get people knocking our defense,” said Grand Valley coach Matt Mitchell on the school’s website. “Other than one game, our defense played well the entire season. This was another great defensive performance, not an anomaly; it didn't come out of left field.”
Home court magic for Palm Beach Atlantic
Before the season started, Palm Beach Atlantic volleyball coach Bob White felt it was important for his team to have the best record possible to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division II volleyball tournament.
White felt if his team was going to play defending champion Tampa in regional, it was best to do it at Palm Beach Atlantic home court.
That matchup never materialized because Tampa lost in the regional semifinal to Florida Southern. The Sailfish faced another familiar foe in regional and took care of Florida Southern 3-1 to win the South Region.
“We are fortunate to be where we are,” White said in the post tournament press conference. “We were prepared. This was our moment and our time These guys seized it. I am so grateful to be a part of their lives and have the success they worked for four years.”
Palm Beach Atlantic is one of eight regional winners who have advanced to Tampa and will play at the Bob Martinez Center, starting on Thursday. The Sailfish, 29-4, will take on New York Institute of Technology, 28-7.
The semifinals are on Friday and the championship match is Saturday.