Just beyond the south end zone at Bearcat Stadium, a group of Northwest football players, led by sophomore wideout LaTroy Harper, danced to the tune of Jimmy Cliff’s “I Can See Clearly Now.” They were nearing the end of the first quarter of a game that started more than three hours prior.
The Bearcats were preparing as if their next play would be their first, though they already possessed a three-score lead. On the heels of a three-hour-and-17-minute lightning delay that disrupted Northwest’s matchup with Central Oklahoma with 1:55 left in the first quarter, the Bearcats led the Bronchos 24-7. But they prepared to start anew.
The Bearcats were forced into their locker room by a lightning delay at 2:18 p.m., taking nearly a quarter's worth of momentum with them. Coach Rich Wright said he wanted to be sure they returned with momentum in hand when the game finally resumed.
“They had played the most complete first quarter that they had all season and I wanted to see them finish it,” Rich Wright said. “And I’ll be darned if they didn’t.”
In the end, Northwest scored a 59-10 over Central Oklahoma in Northwest’s Family Weekend Sept. 28, doing so perhaps because of, not despite, the inclement weather.
In the 13 minutes before the delay, the Bearcats were wholly dominate. Junior receiver Imoni Donadelle ran the game’s opening kickoff back 99 yards for a touchdown. On the first play of Northwest’s next drive, sophomore quarterback Braden Wright found senior running back Justin Rankin for a 48-yard touchdown. They had 14 points before Central Oklahoma had a first down.
Junior kicker Parker Sampson followed with a 45-yard field goal on the Bearcats’ next possession. After a touchdown from the Bronchos, one that came via a 6-yard pass from Central Oklahoma quarterback Keats Calhoun to widout Dustin Basks, Northwest scored again.
Braden Wright ran one in himself from 13-yards out to give Northwest a 24-7 lead. Before the game’s next play from scrimmage, lightning bore its face near Maryville. The game was suspended, the stadium’s seats were cleared, both teams were forced indoors and Rich Wright was annoyed.
“I was actually mad,” Rich Wright said. “Because I didn’t want to take the momentum away from our kids.”
The three-hour stoppage, which came to an end at 5:35 p.m. did little to slow the Bearcats down. Braden Wright said Northwest took the delay and the irregularities that came with it in stride. The time lost called for a shortened halftime and shortened warm up time for both teams. It didn’t seem to bother the Bearcats.
“(We) kinda played the game that was in front of us,” Braden Wright said.
Much of Northwest’s ability to avoid a lull in energy was thanks to Rich Wright, the players said. They exited the locker room after the break with enthusiasm. Rich Wright said it was the band that had him “geeked.” He thanked the group in postgame for “making Family Day special.”
Harper, though, said the team’s renewed energy on the heels of the delay was a result of Rich Wright’s series of locker room speeches.
“Coach Wright was going in during our rain delay,” Harper said. “That was what got me started up. I can’t speak for the rest of the guys, but I think coach Wright being greased up was a big part of what got us out there like that.”
What was said in those speeches, Rich Wright said, was mostly unrepeatable. The message, though, was simple. Rich Wright said Family Day “means the world” to him earlier this week. He made sure his players were ready to honor late coach Scott Bostwick on either side of the delay.
“There’s a lot of things I can’t repeat,” Rich Wright said. “I’ll just tell you that this day and this game is very special to me. I always want to play well on this day. I was somewhat emphatic that it didn’t matter that matter how long it was gonna take, we were going to go back out and finish what we started.”
Rich Wright said he told his team when play resumed he wanted the defense to force a three-and-out and the offense to follow with a score. The Bearcats, of course, obliged. After forcing a Central Oklahoma punt, Northwest took 31 seconds to find the endzone, doing so on a 64-yard touchdown pass from Braden Wright into the hands of Harper.
From there, the onslaught continued. The Bearcats scored on each of their first eight drives. Braden Wright found Harper for scores twice on the day, helping the wideout reach a career-high with two touchdowns and 143 yards.
For the third week in a row, Braden Wright increased his career-high in passing yards, lighting up Central Oklahoma’s defense for 305 yards through the air, a total he coupled with four touchdowns. He did so on 11 completions in 20 attempts — all of his completions came in the first half.
“Braden was dropping dimes all over the place,” Rich Wright said, turning to his quarterback in their postgame press conference. “You played really well. I was impressed, I was impressed with your run for the touchdown. That looked like vintage Braden Wright.”
Playing in a game against the Bronchos, who beat Northwest 31-21 in Edmond, Oklahoma, last season, the Bearcats did not let up. A pair of touchdowns from Rankin helped Northwest carry a 52-7 lead into halftime.
The second half’s only scoring came via a Central Oklahoma field goal and a 9-yard touchdown run from Northwest’s redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Hohensee. In some ways, the game served as revenge for Northwest. Braden Wright denied that sentiment after the game, basking in a 300-yard performance over the team that served him his first collegiate loss a year ago.
“I was that young guy last year,” Braden Wright said. “I hadn’t lost a game in a long time at any level. That game was kind of like that shock to me that was like, ‘Wow, this is real.’ … So it was nice to be able to have that kind of — not revenge game — but I knew what to expect this time around so I wasn’t going to let that happen again.”
Rich Wright said he isn’t sure what his team’s performance today could mean for the rest of this season and that next week would tell him more. He said his team has gotten better every week this season.
The Bearcats were locked in against Central Oklahoma, Rich Wright said. They honored Bostwick with red helmet decals and a lopsided victory. He said the Bearcats did today what they set out to do: They played a complete game.
“Man,” Rich Wright said, “I was proud of those kids today.”