A lot is at stake for Northwest football Nov. 10 when they take on Central Missouri at Audrey J. Walton Stadium.
In order to guarantee a piece of the MIAA title, the Bearcats must win. A chance of a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs is also on the line. In some ways, Northwest faces an uphill climb.
The No. 19 Bearcats (8-2) will have to bounce back from a 17-16 loss to No. 20 Fort Hays (8-2) Nov. 3. With a win against the Tigers, Northwest would have secured a share of the MIAA title, but now they have the same task set before them against the Mules (5-5).
A major issue for Northwest against Fort Hays was the offensive side of the ball, particularly in the first half. The Bearcats had a total of 31 yards of offense at halftime and just one first down. Coach Rich Wright pointed out there was one bright spot out of the first half.
“We just flat out did not play well, offensively in particular for the first 30 minutes, and there is no way to sugar coat that,” Rich Wright said. “For as poorly as we played in the first half, it was 14-10 at half, and I felt like we came out and played better in the second half.”
While the ball game was close all through the second half, one aspect that did not change was the effectiveness of the offense. Northwest managed a season-low 178 yards of offense and freshman quarterback Braden Wright scored only one touchdown for the first time all season.
Braden Wright struggled to find a rhythm after an early interception made it three straight games throwing a pick. Rich Wright said he does not believe the turnover will have any lingering effects on the young quarterback.
“I don’t think that it consciously rattled him. I just look back to how he played, and it just seemed like he was a little bit tentative,” Rich Wright said. “You are never going to be right in sports if you are tentative and it is part of learning and developing as a quarterback and as a younger quarterback.”
The chance to show that Braden Wright has put the turnover behind him will come against a Central Missouri defense that is allowing 386.6 total offensive yards per game this season. The mules have had difficulties defensively allowing 26.4 points per game and have given up more than 25 points in six of 10 games this year.
While the Mule defense has been up and down this year, the offense has been a one of the top in the MIAA. Second in points per game (36.1) and first in total offense per game (494.1), Central Missouri will test the Bearcat defense, in particular, the secondary.
Averaging 306.1 passing yards per game, the Mules rank 10th in Division II and first in the MIAA. Northwest has been middle of the pack in the conference in terms of passing yardage allowed averaging 207.1 per game.
One factor that has helped the defense with the higher powered offenses in the MIAA is the special teams unit. Senior punter Matt Thorman has helped pin opposing offenses deep in their own territory, giving the defense more room to work with when the offense is struggling.
“I know that as long as I do my job then our defense is going to take care of business,” Thorman said. “I go over to Braden (Wright) or the offense and I tell them ‘You are good; you’re going to get the next one,’ and I know they are going to take care of business on the next drive.”
The task of handling the Central Missouri offense is a strain on any defense, and the Northwest defense will be without one of its key cogs up front in sophomore defensive tackle Sam Roberts. Roberts will miss the first half of the game after being ejected for targeting during the third quarter of the Fort Hays game.
In order for Northwest to clinch a share of the MIAA title and a spot in the NCAA Division II playoff, they will have to focus on taking care of the Mules high powered offense while finding more offense of its own.