KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Northwest Missouri State turned two Shepherd turnovers into two touchdowns and then rode its shutdown defense to a 34-7 victory in the NCAA Division II championship game Saturday evening in front of a record-setting crowd of 16,181 at Sporting Park.
The previous record for a NCAA Division II championship game was 15,631 in 1993 at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama.
“It is like a dream right now,” said Northwest Missouri State coach Adam Dorrel. “I am extremely proud of our seniors. There is no way we could have done this without our senior leadership. Those guys have set a new standard at Northwest Missouri State for the expectation level from a work standpoint.
“We were a very unselfish football team this year. I believe the kids played each week for the university and for each other because they loved each other. It really showed late in the playoffs.”
The win completed Northwest Missouri State's second 15-0 season in the last three years and also its fifth national title in Division II, tying the mark held by North Dakota State, which now competes in the NCAA FCS Division.
It was dominating performance by the Bearcats, who held to Shepherd to 97 yards of total offense and seven first downs. Northwest Missouri finished with 462 yards of offense.
“To have this end the way it did my senior year and go out on top is indescribable right now, an incredible feeling,” said Northwest Missouri senior quarterback Brady Bolles, who went 20 for 27 for 233 yards and one touchdown.
At the start of the game, Northwest Missouri, which is 40-2 over the last three seasons, definitely looked like the more seasoned team in a title game. Shepherd was making its first trip.
Still, the game figured to be highly competitive. It was the first time two undefeated teams played in the championship game since 2005 when Northwest Missouri lost 17-14 to Grand Valley State.
Early jitters put Shepherd in an early hole. Starting at its 18, Shepherd fumbled the first play from scrimmage when the snap sailed over the head of junior quarter Jeff Ziemba. Junior Cass Weitl recovered for Northwest at the Rams’ 4.
“It was awesome way to start off the game and give the offense a short porch,” Weitl said.
Two plays later, Northwest Missouri scored on a 1-yard run by sophomore running back Jordan Grove. After the extra point, the Bearcats held a 7-0 lead just 47 seconds into the game.
Northwest Missouri took full advantage of the second costly turnover in the first half and went into halftime with a 24-0 lead.
“We probably couldn’t have started any worse than we did,” said Shepherd coach Monte Cater, whose team finished 13-1. “They got on the board and then we had that unfortunate interception and that got us down quite a bit.
“I am really proud of our guys. They kept battling. We got down so quickly and so much that we could have just quit and they did not. We kept playing hard today. We just lost to a better football team.”
In an otherwise evenly played first half, the two quick scores stunned Shepherd and the first one struck on the first play from scrimmage.
The second turnover really hurt Shepherd because it occurred just before halftime. Trailing 17-0 with 43 seconds left in the second quarter, the Rams had good enough field position to try to get into field goal range.Northwest Missouri senior defensive back Bryce Enyard anticipated a sideline pass, jumped in front of the receiver and intercepted the pass. Enyard then raced 59 yards down the sidelines and into the end zone for a touchdown.
The score just before halftime completed Northwest Missouri’s domination in the second quarter. Shepherd failed to get a first down in the second quarter and only managed nine yards of total offense in 11 plays.
A glimmer of hope emerged for Shepherd early in the third quarter. Northwest Missouri fumbled a punt, giving the ball to the Rams at the Bearcats’ 32. Two plays later, Shepherd was in the end zone on a 21-yard pass play from Ziemba to junior wide receiver Billy Brown, making it 24-7 with 9:49 remaining in the third quarter.
“All year we never gave up,” said Brown, who caught five passes for 90 yards. “After that, it gave us some momentum. But at the end of the day, we still lost so it didn’t mean anything.”
The Bearcats answered with a 10-play, 78-yard drive that concluded with a 22-yard field goal by Simon Mathiesen with 4:33 left in the third quarter.
Northwest Missouri State put the game away early in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard run by Grove, making it 34-7 with 8:47 left in the game.
Grove scored two touchdowns. He also had two other nice plays that resulted in points. In the second quarter, when Northwest Missouri led 7-0, Grove caught a 74-yard pass that set up the Bearcats’ second touchdown. In the third, Grove completed a 45-yard halfback pass that led to a field goal.
Defensively, junior defensive lineman Collin Bevins recorded four sacks and was part of a group that made it difficult for Ziemba.
“We have done a pretty good job all year putting pressure on the quarterback,” Bevins said. “The four sacks doesn’t show how good of a day I had; it shows the defensive line in general and the linebackers all played well. It was a great team game.”
Ziemba was dodging Northwest Missouri defenders all game. The Bearcats finished with 10 sacks.
“I really didn’t have much time,” Ziemba said. “Those are four big guys and they are great at what they do.”
Because of the play of Northwest Missouri defense, Cater said his team never found its rhythm on offense.