Two second year coaches will lead their teams out onto the field Oct. 20 at Harlen C. Hunter Stadium in St. Charles, Missouri, with two very different seasons so far.
For No. 11 Northwest (6-1), the season has landed right where they expected it to, on top of the conference and improving each week. Lindenwood (3-4), on the other hand, is struggling to find consistency, with up-and-down play thus far.
Coach Rich Wright found some equal comparisons in how the offense has played for both the Bearcats and the Lions this year.
“There are parallels as far as the system is concerned,” Rich Wright said. “That was the thing I saw when I was watching them (Lindenwood) and we run similar style offenses.”
The familiarity with the offensive system will allow the Bearcat defense to simulate some of what has made the Lions successful so far this year. The Lions quarterback, freshman Cade Brister, is a dual-threat and is second on the team in net rushing yards.
This is a mirror of the Northwest offense in which freshman quarterback Braden Wright sits behind junior running back Isaiah Strayhorn in net rushing yards. Aside from the rushing category, both teams bolster high-powered offenses with Northwest second in the MIAA and Lindenwood at third.
Part of the explosive offense for the Bearcats is the big plays they have been able to make week-in and week-out, either through the run game or in the air.
“We know we have big play ability with guys like Shawn Bane, Isaiah Strayhorn and Josh Caldwell,” junior wide receiver Cody Massey said. “Trusting what we are doing and believing in what our coaches have us doing is really a big thing for us.”
That belief in the coach’s play calling is something that has helped Northwest amass three straight 21-0 leads. After gaining those leads is when the Bearcats begin to struggle at times moving the ball.
After building the 21-0 lead against Nebraska-Kearney in the first quarter and putting up 252 yards, Northwest managed 114 yards in the remaining three quarters. Polishing up the offense is something that Rich Wright stressed down the final stretch of the regular season.
“We’ve done a lot of really good things offensively this year,” Rich Wright said. “We’ve shown the ability to be explosive. To me it’s a small consistency piece, and that’s the thing we’ve got to fix in practice.”
While the offense continues to progress, the defense finds itself back on top of the nation allowing 10.6 points per game. The Bearcats have led the NCAA Division II in scoring defense the previous three years and are right on track to claim the top spot again.
Other than allowing a rushing touchdown for the first time in 19 games, the rushing defense has been just as sound, giving up a mere 84.6 yards per game, putting them at eighth in the Division II.
The trip to St. Charles will be the first of three games on the road out of the final four games for Northwest’s regular season and will offer a chance to move one step closer to the MIAA title.