It could have been worse for the Bearcats, a lot worse.
After losing the MIAA championship game 21-20 to rival Missouri Western in front of a standing room-only crowd at Bearcat Stadium Saturday, the Bearcats didn't know if their 9-2 season would earn them a spot in the NCAA Division II football championship playoffs.
Head Coach Adam Dorrel lamented the loss, but was confident in his team's chances.
"I thought it was a sloppy football game on our part," Dorrel said after the game. "It doesn't diminish what we did. We had a great season. We deserve to make the national playoffs."
He was right.
The Bearcats, a fourth seed in Super Region 3, earned a home game Saturday against Harding University (9-1). Missouri Western, the third seed, plays Minnesota-Duluth.
But the Northwest loss to their MIAA rival hurt.
No question about it.
The Bearcats (9-2, 8-2) held leads of 17-0 mid-way through the third quarter and 20-7 with less than seven minutes left, but couldn't bring it home.
Western junior quarterback Travis Partridge engineered two lengthy scoring drives in the final six minutes and brought the Griffons (10-1, 9-1) even with a 2-yard touchdown run with 52 seconds left.
Kicker Taylor Anderson's ensuing extra point gave the Griffons their first and only lead of the game.
Northwest quarterback Trevor Adams threw behind Jordan Simmons on a fourth and 19 that sealed the Bearcats gut-wrenching fate.
The loss ended a streak of 14 straight home wins and marked the fourth time over the last two seasons that Northwest has blown a lead of 10 points or more, with two of those coming against Missouri Western.
The Griffons 17-point second half comeback matched a lead they gave away in first round of the 2010 playoffs to Northwest at Bearcat Stadium.
Bearcat fans cleared the stadium while the final seconds ticked down, as Griffon fans flooded the field, cheering and snapping pictures of each other smiling on their rival's home turf.
That wasn't the whole story; early on it looked to be a good Senior Day for the crowd of 10,102.
After a scoreless first quarter, Tyler Shaw put Northwest up 7-0 on a 6-yard reception with 14:24 left in the second quarter.
The 40-yard scoring drive was set up by a Travis Manning interception—his fourth of the year and the Bearcats Division II leading 25th overall.
Following the first of two missed field goals into the wind by Anderson, Northwest extended its lead to 14-0 on a 2-yard scoring run by Jordan Simmons with 5:47 left in the second.
Todd Adolf's 22-yard field goal with 28 seconds left in the half gave Northwest a 17-0 halftime lead.
On their second drive of the third quarter, the Griffons got on the board when Tyron Crockom caught a 19-yard pass from Partridge to make it 17-7.
Northwest squandered a chance to get three points on its next drive when Adams, the team's field goal holder, mis-handled a snap and threw incomplete to Adolf on fourth down.
Western punted back to Northwest from near midfield, and the Bearcats proceeded to take up over half the fourth quarter with a 17-play, 54-yard drive that consumed 8:14.
It ended with a 43-yard field goal from Adolf into a stiff breeze to make the score 20-7 with 7:06 left.
This is when the Bearcat defense that had been so good all season and all game long broke down.
Starting from its own 25, Western got the quick response it had to have with a six-play, 75-yard scoring drive that took up only 1:58.
Partridge completed 4-5 passes on the drive, and the last one to Tarrell Downing on third and three resulted in a 38-yard touchdown. Downing broke several tackles on the play and dove into the end zone to make it 20-14 with 5:08 left.
Western forced a three-and-out from Northwest on the next series by hitting running back James Franklin III for a two-yard loss on third and two. The Bearcats put themselves behind the chains on first down with an inadvertent shotgun snap from center Cole Chevalier that was recovered for a four-yard loss.
The Griffons got the ball back at their own 34 with 3:16 left, and whipped right down the field with six plays of seven yards or more.
Running back Michael Hill's 13-yard burst set the Griffons up at the 2-yard line.
On the next play, Partridge faked a hand-off to Hill and launched himself through an open hole on the right side of the line for the game-tying touchdown.
Anderson's extra point made it 21-20.
Northwest drove to the Griffons' 39 yard line, but an offensive pass interference call on a 14-yard completion to wide receiver John Hinchey – that would have set up a potential game winning field goal – killed the drive.
Shaw engaged with a Western defender on the play before the pass was completed.
Adams' next two throws fell incomplete, giving the ball back to Western who required two kneel downs to run out the remaining time.
As the clock ticked down, the Missouri Western section of the stands exploded in cheers. The Griffons hadn't owned the conference title outright in 24 years, only sharing it in 2003.
Dorrel admits he and the Bearcats made mistakes during the game, but doesn't discount the strength of the Griffons.
"It's a good rivalry," he said. "It's two good football teams."
It was about as even as it gets statistically, with the Griffons finishing with a slight 359-357 edge in total yards.
Northwest had one more first down in the game and wound up plus-one in the turnover battle.
Adams finished 22-35 with 232 yards and a touchdown. Simmons and Franklin III combined for 113 yards, but both were held under four yards per carry. As a team, the Bearcats averaged 3.2 yards per attempt.
Shaw (six catches, 70 yards) and Simmons (six catches, 51 yards) were the team's top receivers. Tight end Vincent Defeo added four grabs for 32 yards.
For Western, Partridge was 7-8 on the final two drives and finished 19-26 with 207 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Hill totaled 121 yards on 19 carries, becoming the first back to top 100 yards against Northwest all season.
Crockum totaled four catches for a team-high 58 yards. Brandon Wright caught all four of his passes on the final two drives for 41 yards.
By Jason Offutt Special to the Daily Forum
The Maryville Daily Forum - Maryville, MO
By Jason Offutt Special to the Daily Forum
Updated Nov. 12, 2012 @ 7:52 pm
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