Matt Longacre saw the football on the ground and knew it was a chance at redemption. Northwest Missouri State had looked like it lost a chance to move on to the next round.
With a little more than eight minutes to play in the game and with Missouri Western up by two, the defenseive lineman gave his team the final score.
The Bearcats defeated the Griffons 35-29 Saturday at Spratt Stadium and now take on Midwestern State this Saturday in Wichita Falls, Texas.
“I’ve never scored a touchdown before in my life playing football,” Longacre said. “And I saw that football, and we were down, and I picked it up and ran as fast as I could and made sure that ball was not going to come out so we could get that score. It was big.”
Just after Todd Adolf missed a 26-yard field goal attempt, and the Griffons crowd erupted into a roar, the Bearcats snatched back momentum on the very next play.
Travis Partridge took the low snap, which was supposed to be a design run, and tried to make a play out of it. That’s when the Bearcats D-Line took their second opportunity at a turnover and jumped on him. Just as the ball squirted out, Longacre picked it up and saw nothing in front of him but the end zone.
With 8:01 to play in the game, Northwest took its first lead of the game.
“The effort that we gave today — to have a first quarter like we had and not quit — we were resilient for three hours,” said Bearcats coach Adam Dorrel, who is in his first year at the helm. “I thought our defense was just phenomenal today.”
Western jumped out to a quick 16-0 lead before anybody could blink. The first play of the game saw quarterback Trevor Adams throw a side pass to James Franklin, but the ball was sent backwards, immediately picked up by Griffons Ben Jackson, who returned it to the one-yard-line. Partridge ran a quarterback sneak on the next play to take a 7-0 lead.
The next two possessions for the Bearcats both ended in turnovers, as Shane Simpson took an interception back for a score on the third turnover, which ended the scoring route.
“We certainly had some things that we left out there,” Griffons coach Jerry Partridge said. “We just missed tackles on some of those bigger plays.”
Up 16-0 after kicker Greg Zuerlein missed the point-after-try, Northwest finally settled down and scored on a 51-yard touchdown to David Mosley. Zuerlein connected on two more field goals after he nailed a school record 58-yarder in the first quarter. He made a 57-yard field goal followed by a 52-yard field goal to mark the score at 22-7 before halftime.
Perhaps the biggest play for Northwest in the first half occurred by its defensive line, just as the final touchdown did.
At the one-yard-line, Western’s running back Michael Hill took a delayed handoff from the quarterback, only to be met by a pack of Bearcats and fumbled. Northwest came up with the ball, which could have essentially put the Griffons up 26-7 and make a comeback that much harder for Northwest (10-2).
“We probably should have burned a timeout and ran a quarterback sneak,” Jerry Partridge said. “Honestly that might have been the game right there. We were going to punch it away at that point, we just didn’t do it. It has nothing to do with (Michael Hill); I wouldn’t trade No. 22 for anybody in America.”
The second half was a complete 180 for the Bearcats, as they scored 21 unanswered points to win the game and move on to Wichita Falls to play undefeated Midwestern.
Jerry Partridge pointed to his fake punt decision in the second half as the momentum changer. Up 22-7, the Griffons decided to fake a punt at midfield, but came up four-yards shy and turned the ball over.
From there, Northwest scored on a 35-yard run by Franklin. Follwing that touchdown, Western score on a 38-yard run by Derek Libby. Northwest answered with a 66-yard touchdown, a 20-yard touchdown and Longacre’s score to give the Bearcats the victory.
The win gives the Bearcats a playoff win over Western for the second straight year. Last season, Northwest defeated Western in the playoffs despite being down 17-0 at the half. Two years in a row Western was up double-digits at halftime; two years in a row, the same outcome for the Griffons — a loss.
Western ends the year tying the school record with nine wins. The Griffons, once 2-2, fought an uphill battle just to make it to the playoffs, as they won seven straight, including a victory two weeks to the day over their rival — Northwest. Still, the Griffons see only better opportunities awaiting them, as they bring back a core of juniors that take three years of post-season experience with them. Hill, Jackson, David Bass, Ben Pister and Tarrell Downing, as well as their starting O-Line and and much of their defense all return for the Griffons to try at winning a playoff game and perhaps move on further.
“Missouri Western will certainly be back next year with our huge senior class,” Partridge said. “I got a really good football team coming back next year. I just hate it for the seniors.”
Zuerlein, who has a D-II record for most consecutive field goals made, as well as a college record at all levels for 50-plus field goals made (9) agrees with his coach. Zuerlein, a senior, looks to be kicking on Sundays now.
“(Western) is a great place to be,” Zuerlein said. “I wished I had more eligibility to play here, cause I really like it and they’re going to do great things in the future.”
Photos by: Jason Brown