Northwest football’s road back to the top of the MIAA begins in Pittsburg, Kansas Oct. 6 in a battle between two of the conference’s top programs.
It was the No. 8 Pittsburg State (5-0) who ended the No. 16 Bearcats’ (4-1) 38-game win streak in 2017. This year, Northwest finds itself in an unusual position as the statistical underdog.
Coach Rich Wright did not try to downplay the amount riding on the Week 6 matchup.
“It's a big game because it is Week 6, we control our destiny and this is our next opponent.” Rich Wright said. “That is how we treat every single game. We just try and take the mindset of it’s a big game, but it's a game.”
The challenge waiting at Carnie Smith Stadium will provide the perfect chance for Northwest to supplant itself right back atop the MIAA and give it momentum heading into the second half of the season.
Standing in the way is a Gorilla team that has had an advantage against the Bearcats in Pittsburg, winning 14 of the 20 games played there. The atmosphere that has troubled Northwest throughout the series with Pitt State is one that sophomore Jackson Barnes and the rest of the defense will have to help eliminate early in the game.
“It’s just going to be really exciting because I know it is going to be a great atmosphere,” Barnes said. “We are just going to embrace the underdog role and go in there and do our best and hopefully come out with a win.”
The front seven will have a demanding task of stopping a Pitt State run game that averages 241.2 yards per game and runs a combination of running styles. The physical run style will be in stark contrast of the Emporia State game in Week 5.
Emporia ran the ball 31 times against Northwest and netted just 71 yards. The Gorillas put up 302 rushing yards against Lindenwood on 57 carries. Barnes and the rest of the front seven for the Bearcats have to duplicate their success against the run in order slow the Pitt State offense.
The defense will not be the only side of the ball dealing with the atmosphere, as the offense will need to continue to connect on the explosive plays to take the life out of the crowd. Freshman quarterback Braden Wright has contributed explosive plays every week so far this season.
He has a completion of at least 35 yards in each game and had an 80-yard completion against the Hornets. The freshman is averaging 242.4 yards passing and 300.2 total offensive yards per game, both ranking second in the MIAA.
Braden Wright leads the way for the Bearcat run game with six touchdowns, ranking third in NCAA Division II among quarterbacks. Facing a volatile crowd on the road is something he has yet to encounter and will test his poise under the most pressure of the season.
Braden Wright and the rest of the offense were able to weather the early game roar and maintain the success they found against the Hornets. The Bearcats racked up 450 offensive yards in the 41-0 win.
As the Bearcats prepare for the toughest road battle so far this year, Rich Wright is getting the team ready for the noise they might face.
“Swing by practice today about four o’clock and that jumbotron will be cranked up about as loud as it will go all day long,” Rich Wright said. “Every team period we have it will be on and it will be far louder than anything they can muster, so we will prepare that way all week.”