NW Football

Redshirt freshman defensive back Cahleel Smith tackles a player from Pitt State in the Bearcats 20-19 win over the Gorillas Oct. 9, leading their record 5-0 overall. The No. 2 Bearcats’ Week 7 matchup with MIAA foe Washburn will take place two hours away in Topeka, Kansas, to face the Ichabods Oct. 16.

Each week at the Northwest Athletics Media Luncheon, Northwest coaches give behind-the-scenes rundowns of the week that led up to the gathering.

Volleyball coach Amy Woerth always provides a recap. Tennis coach Mark Rosewell always provides a recap. Women’s golf coach Andy Peterson — who also serves as the school’s athletic director — always provides a recap.

Fifth-year football coach Rich Wright usually doesn’t.

It’s a tradition of his, one of the superstitious rituals he follows every week of football season. He usually defers the commentary to the athlete who accompanies him to the venue. Wright elected to bring junior defensive end Elijah Green to Tuesday’s meeting, just days prior to the No. 2 Bearcats’ Week 7 matchup with MIAA foe Washburn.

“It wasn’t ideal,” Green said of Northwest’s 20-19 win against Pitt State Oct. 9. “We got into a dog fight. But, I mean, we won.”

The Maryville native ended his remarks by referencing a quote from Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched.”

The Bearcats got punched for the first two and a half quarters against Pitt, a game in which they ultimately outscored the Gorillas 20-6 after trailing 13-0 at halftime, but they’re hoping it’s a different case when they make the two-hour trek to Topeka, Kansas, to face the Ichabods Oct. 16.

In the aftermath of the comeback win against Pitt, Wright said some of the Bearcats’ defensive struggles came from the Gorillas presenting an offense that wasn’t seen on film. He’s expecting the matchup with Washburn to be no different.

“The thing I always noticed when I play these guys is they’re very multiple — in terms of formations, in terms of looks,” Wright said. “They’re always going to have some things that they haven't shown on film and they’re gonna present you with. They force you to be flexible in your defensive framework. They do a really nice job, offensively.”

The Ichabods’ offense will be led by quarterback Mitch Schurig, who enters Week 7 leading the MIAA in passing touchdowns (18) and is tied for the most interceptions with seven. He’ll be coming off a 23-20 overtime win against Fort Hays that featured the senior going 25-of-31 for 282 yards passing and three touchdowns.

When Northwest beat the Ichabods 38-17 in 2019, Schurig was 18-of-31 for 243 yards passing, two touchdowns and an interception.

Despite the Bearcats’ defense being able to rattle him then, Wright doesn’t foresee Schurig backing down from the opportunity to face the top team in the conference.

“Anytime you’ve got a super senior, a guy that’s played in as many games as he has, he feels comfortable in big-game situations,” Wright said. “He’s already played in several throughout his career. He’s a coach’s kid, so he’s got a great understanding of football in general, but their offense, specifically.”

Schurig’s father, Craig, is in his 20th season as the head coach at Washburn. But, if history is on Northwest’s side, Craig Schurig won’t be happy when he steps off his home turf Oct. 16.

The Bearcats will have won 13 consecutive matchups against the Ichabods when the two teams meet in Topeka. The last time Washburn was able to successfully defend its home field was Oct. 8, 1994, when the ’Bods beat Northwest 31-28 — seven years before Craig Schurig took over the reins to the program.

Green is hoping to play a pivotal part in assuring that streak doesn’t end in Week 7.

“We kind of pride ourselves on that first drive, setting the tempo for what we’re going to do for the rest of the game. That first drive didn’t pan out like we had anticipated,” Green said of the Bearcats’ early mishaps against Pitt. “That’s something we need to clean up this week in practice and heading into the Washburn game.”

The linebacker-turned-defensive lineman knows it won’t be easy, though. Wright knows that, too.

Schurig will be accompanied by a trio of receivers who each have at least five touchdowns receptions. The passing attack, aside from the quarterback, is led by senior wideout James Letcher Jr., who has reeled in 34 catches for 559 yards receiving and six scores.

“It’ll probably be the best three receivers, together, that we’ve played to date,” Wright said. “Tight end can run. They’re physical at the line of scrimmage. Their (running) backs run hard. They’ve got a full back that likes to mix it up pretty well. They’re definitely the complete package on offense. We’re going to have to play well to win.”

“Watching them so much this year, they play hard,” Green said about the Ichabods. “They play hard. They play fast. They’re really, really physical. So, it’ll be a good game, and we’re just blessed and excited to have the opportunity to step out there with them.”

The Bearcats, of course, will aim to clean up the mistakes that plagued them for the better part of their matchup against the Gorillas. They’ll have an opportunity to do so against an offense that could create the same problems for them that Pitt did, and Wright said the program prides itself on the ability to make adjustments.

Should Wright and company find themselves in a similar position to their Week 6 thriller, they’ll know it’s a situation that isn’t too far out of reach.

“To get the result that we got, and to be able to figure out a way to win and figure out a way to persevere in that football game, is going to pay dividends moving forward,” Wright said. “We had to come from behind. We had to work when things weren’t going easy, and, so, I think it taught us all a lesson.”

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