KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Braden Wright crossed the goal line of the north end zone inside Arrowhead Stadium and pointed in celebration to what was left of Pittsburg State’s student section, a group the sophomore quarterback said berated the Bearcats all day Oct. 12.
The moment served as an exclamation point at the tail end of Northwest football’s Fall Classic matchup with Pittsburg State. Braden Wright’s 48-yard touchdown run, coupled with the extra point added by junior kicker Parker Sampson, gave the Bearcats a 38-17 with 59 seconds left in the contest, a lead that would become final moments later.
For the No. 7 Bearcats (6-0), the play was just a snapshot of the team’s dominant showing in Kansas City. For Braden Wright, the play was a cosmetic accent mark on a game he said the Bearcats would have won without it.
“It’s just electric,” Braden Wright said. “They talked to us the whole game. Anyone that gets near them, they’re gonna talk. ... You try not to get too wrapped up in that. That’s not what it’s about. It was about me finally kind of putting the game away a little bit. I mean, I knew the defense was going to handle it regardless, but, yeah, it was just a good feeling to be able to get into the end zone finally.”
Braden Wright’s animated touchdown was the last for Northwest in a game full of them. After Pitt State (5-1) jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 78-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Mlekus to wideout Lorenzo West, the Bearcats took over.
For the second time in two weeks, the Bearcats found themselves trailing by a touchdown in the first quarter of a conference matchup. And for the second time in two weeks, they responded.
Northwest’s first-half scoring parade began on a run-pass option play, with Braden Wright opting to throw to senior tight end Marqus Andrews for a 6-yard score.
“You know, I was kind of feeling generous,” Braden Wright said. “I feel like I probably could have run to the corner (of the endzone), but I thought I’d give the big fella one, get him going for the day.”
The 6-yard pass from his quarterback indeed served as a kickstart for Andrews’ performance against the Gorillas. On Northwest’s next drive, Andrews, with Pitt State defenders surrounding him, caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Hohensee. The Bearcats took a 14-7 lead and would not trail for the remainder of the game.
The game’s second quarter followed a similar script. After a 59-yard touchdown run on a reverse play from junior wideout Imoni Donadelle, Andrews continued his offensive tear.
With Northwest leading the Gorillas 21-7, Hohensee found Andrews for another score, this one from 35-yards out. A Blue Springs High School graduate playing just 11 miles away from his alma mater, Andrews record 3 catches for 61 yards and, of course, 3 touchdowns. He outscored the Gorillas by himself.
“It means a lot,” Andrews said. “I had a lot of family here. I probably had like 30 family members here in attendance watching, so it means a lot — them coming and watching me and me performing the way I did today.”
After 28 unanswered points for the Bearcats, Pitt State responded with its second and final touchdown of the afternoon with 4:42 left in the game’s first half. Mak Sexton, one of two Pitt State quarterbacks to see playing time in the Gorilla’s option offense, found wideout Bryce Murphy for a 6-yard score.
Northwest etched the last points of the half onto the scoreboard, cashing in on a 41-yard field goal via the right foot of Sampson. The Bearcats exited the first half with 330 yards of offense, five stops in six Pitt State third-down conversion attempts and with a 31-14 lead in tow.
“What I stressed to the kids all week was just, ‘Find a way to win a football game,’” coach Rich Wright said. “You never know what that’s going to look like when you actually get out there on Saturday afternoon. I thought we did some good things.”
The game’s script changed dramatically as the second half unfolded. What started as an offensive bout turned into a defensive battle, one defined more by punting yards than points scored.
Each team went scoreless throughout the third quarter, with no second-half action coming until the latter moments of the fourth. With 2:47 left in the game, trailing the Bearcats by 17 points, Pittsburg State opted to kick a 22-yard field goal, cutting Northwest’s lead to 31-17.
The Gorillas were able to corral an onside kick attempt but ultimately failed to make Northwest sweat in the game’s final moments, following the successful recovery with a four-consecutive incomplete passes, turning the ball over on downs.
Northwest, of course, responded with Braden Wright’s energized touchdown run, one that served as the ultimate nail in the coffin for Pitt State. The sophomore gunslinger accumulated more rushing yards in the matchup (172) than he did passing yards (102). For him, it’s a part of the job.
“It felt that same as if it was the passing game, I’m just doing what I can to help us move the ball and win,” Braden Wright said. “If they ask me to carry 17 times, yeah my body’s going to be hurting a little bit more than if I throw 50 times, but if I’ve got to do it, I’ll do it.”
After an uneven performance against Emporia State in Week 5, Rich Wright said Northwest’s win over Pitt State was a mark of improvement. The coach was unimpressed by the defense’s ability to stop the run: The Bearcats allowed 87 rushing yards in the game, Rich Wright said the goal was to allow less than 50.
The offense’s second-half performance, highlighted only by Braden Wright’s touchdown run, was also uninspiring to Northwest’s third-year head coach.
“My expectation level of our offense is different than what it has been the last few years,” Rich Wright said. “I think we have some weapons over there and we have to play better in those situations moving forward.”
Still, the Bearcats walked into Arrowhead Stadium Oct. 12 with their toughest test of the season ahead of them with the stakes as high as they have been all year. They walked out with a 21-point victory over a previously-undefeated conference rival.
They played generally dynamic defense and piled on early offensively. They held the Gorillas to 5-of-19 on third-down conversion attempts. They posted 426 yards of total offense. And they beat Pitt State for their sixth win of the season.
“It’s Week 6,” Rich Wright said. “It was a game and it was a great game and we won it. And we’re going to go back to Maryville and celebrate that tonight, and tomorrow I’m gonna be right back at the office doing what I do. And my expectation is my players are going to come back into the complex at 6 o’clock in the morning on Monday and we’re going to get back to work because we aren’t a finished product yet.”
“The one thing I did tell them on the field is this win means nothing if we go to Kearney, Nebraska, and lay an egg,” he added. “We’ve got work to do.”