Northwest football faces the No. 1 rusher and rushing attack in the MIAA at Bearcat Stadium for Homecoming Oct. 13.
Nebraska-Kearney (4-2) sits atop the conference with 304 rushing yards per game heading into Week 7. Junior running back Darrius Webb leads the way for the Lopers averaging 96.7 yards per contest and is seeking his third straight 100-yard game. This strength of the Lopers will be tested by the biggest strength of the Bearcats (5-1), defending the run.
Allowing a mere 76.7 yards per game on the ground is good for a seventh place tie among NCAA Division II defenses for No. 13 Northwest. The stout rushing defense is nothing new to the Bearcats, as it has been 47 games since any player has rushed for 100 yards against Northwest.
Along with stuffing the yardage, touchdowns on the ground have been just as difficult to achieve against Northwest. Heading into Homecoming, the streak has reached 19 straight games without allowing a rushing touchdown. Despite the heritage and history of dominating rushing defenses, coach Rich Wright is not underestimating the Lopers’ scheme.
“They (Kearney) do some different things and present problems that are not typical of a week-in-week-out offense,” Wright said. “If you look it up, statistically they are averaging 304 yards a game rushing, so we are going to have to be very good on Saturday.”
While the Lopers rely on the run game heavily, Northwest has been more of a balanced offensive team throughout the first six games. Averaging over 200 yards on the ground and through the air, the Bearcats have spread the ball around to the playmakers on the field. One playmaker stood out in the Week 6 win over Pitt State: junior running back Isaiah Strayhorn.
Strayhorn had his most productive game as a Bearcat racking up 147 rushing yards on 11 carries and punching in the games opening touchdown. His play earned him MIAA Offensive Player of the Week.
Getting its own run game going early on will help Northwest control the line of scrimmage and give the defense time to recover from the physical run style Kearney plays with.
“I think we are going to have to score and start fast,” Strayhorn said. “I think that because of our potentially limited amount of possessions on offense, we are going to have to make the most of those possessions.”
Starting off strong has been a strong suit for the Bearcats in the past two weeks as they opened up a 27-0 and a 28-0 lead heading into halftime of each game. Bolstering these fast starts has been the second quarter play.
Through six weeks, Northwest has 86 second quarter points, averaging slightly more than 14 points in the second quarter while allowing less than three points on average in the quarter.
The struggle for Northwest has been maintaining the first half momentum after halftime. The third quarter is the lowest scoring quarter this season for the Bearcats and is tied with the second quarter for the most points allowed. Putting together a full four quarters of dominant football is the goal for Northwest Homecoming day.