Largely a non-factor in Northwest Missouri State's offense last year and for most of the current campaign, senior receiver John Hinchey came up large for the No. 5 Bearcats in Saturday's 31-21 win over former No. 1 Pittsburg State at Arrowhead Stadium.
Hinchey punctuated the best game of his sporadic career with a memorable 29-yard touchdown catch-and-run on fourth and four in the fourth quarter to put the Bearcats ahead 17-14.
It was Hinchey's first touchdown grab since a 42-28 win over Emporia State in week six of the 2010 season, a span of 27 games.
Hinchey tied for the team lead and more than doubled his season total with four catches and led the Bearcats with 63 receiving yards.
Hinchey hadn't had a four-catch game since 2010 and his yardage total matched a career-high from week two of 2010 against Nebraska-Omaha.
"It was extremely satisfying," said Hinchey, a Kearney grad. "Battling injuries and inconsistency, I was pretty determined to leave a good legacy here. I feel like the seniors really put it together and it was a good team effort to beat the No. 1 team in the nation."
Now with seven catches for 132 yards on the year, Hinchey has already exceeded his totals from last year when he had just six catches for 33 yards and rarely saw the field.
All seven catches have come in the last five games after back-to-back zero-catch efforts in the first two weeks when Hinchey was still fighting his way through injuries that caused him to sit out a portion of fall camp.
Lately, Hinchey has been a weapon in chain-moving situations.
Four of his last five receptions, including three on Saturday against Pitt, occurred on third or fourth down and resulted in first downs or a touchdown.
"I like to think of myself as a guy that can get open and make the play when we need to make a play," said Hinchey. "If that means making a play on third down, I feel like I can do that."
With at least four games remaining, Hinchey is currently on track to have his second most productive year behind only his 26-catch sophomore campaign in 2010.
He's also the third leading receiver among a corps that lost two of its top weapons last year.
"I'm just being more consistent, more cerebral and more attuned with my quarterback," said Hinchey. "I owe Jake (Soy) a lot of credit for what he taught me. We definitely needed to fill a void at receiver and I did feel the need to get better."
Truly special teams
It was another banner day for Northwest Missouri State's special teams units in Saturday's Fall Classic.
Page 2 of 3 - Bearcat sophomore punter Kyle Goodburn averaged 46.2 yards per attempt, pinning Pittsburg State inside the 10-yard line three times. He was named the MIAA Special Teams Player of the Week Monday.
Previous award recipient Todd Adolf drilled a 31-yard field goal in the third quarter, making him 8-10 on the year.
Adolf also averaged 43.3 net yards per kick-off with two touchbacks.
Their contributions, along with coverage units that limited John Brown to only 69 yards on six returns, caused Pitt State to start eight of 14 drives from its own 25 or in.
This has been pretty much been the norm for the Bearcats this year.
They are giving up only 6.4 yards per punt return and 17.3 on kick-offs.
"I think I've been pretty adamant with people about how our special teams are," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Adam Dorrel. "We are special on special teams. Our punter was just phenomenal. Todd Adolf is growing each week and he's a good kicker. I think we're doing some good things schematically. We're not just allowing people to get touchbacks and get the ball out to the 25 on us. We're pop-kicking, we're saying beat us and we're doing a good job of covering kicks."
Northwest Missouri State's defense will get its first look at Missouri Southern's old-school triple-option attack Saturday in Joplin.
The offense was installed by new Lion head coach Daryl Daye, a former assistant head coach with the Buffalo Bills.
To this point, the Lions (5-2, 4-2) have been surprisingly successful with it.
While ranking last in the MIAA in pass offense, Southern averages close to 25 points per game thanks to a rush offense that ranks second with 269 yards per game.
Quarterback Kellen Cox is the MIAA's second leading rusher behind Western's Michael Hill with 596 yards.
"Honestly, people don't know how to defend it because they haven't had to go against it for a long time," said Dorrel. "When you don't have to do something for that long, you almost forget literally how you used to defend that stuff. Maybe just not even the coaches, but it's the kids. When you're going against the same inside zone team or outside zone team each week, your kids know how to fight off a double team or play a zone block. Now, it's entirely different."
Dorrel says most of his defensive players haven't gone against a true option team since early in their high school careers.
Nebraska-Kearney ran a number of option plays against Northwest earlier this year, but Southern's offense takes it to a new extreme.
"It's an entirely different ball of wax," said Dorrel. "It's a true triple option. The modern option is just one option."
Page 3 of 3 - Women's basketball
First-year Northwest Missouri State women's basketball coach Mark Kellogg reported a 100 percent retention rate among returning players from last year.
All 10 that were supposed to be back reported to the first day of practice Monday, somewhat of a rarity given the change in coaching staffs following last year's dismal 6-22 campaign.
"I got the job so late I didn't know enough about them to make a decision whether they should or shouldn't be here," said Kellogg. "We went through the process. We got to know them on and off the court as best as we could, as quickly as we could. We just thought there's a role for these kids. We brought in five that can help, so we're sitting at 15. We got depth at positions. Rather than just blow it up and take some hit-and-miss type kids, at least we have good character, good quality. Now, we'll start developing the talent a little bit more."
The willingness on both the players and Kellogg's end to give each other a chance lies in contrast to what occurred at Missouri Western.
Griffons first year-head coach Rob Edmisson brought in nine new players and decided to retain only four from last year.
"Obviously, they did it differently than we did,' said Kellogg. "I did something similar at Fort Lewis where I didn't get rid of everybody either and that seemed to work out. If you're a knuckle head and stuff, it wouldn't have worked. Maybe they have those down there. I have no idea. I just know we have really good kids that want to do the right thing that are buying into what we're doing. We're pretty happy with all those kids and the decision right now."
Northwest's 2012-2013 team will be showcased along with the men at Thursday night's Bearcat Bash.
The men, who are ranked No. 19 in the Bulletin preseason poll, also began practice Monday.