The challenge of going on the road for the second round of the playoffs to play a rested opponent with a better record and a top 10 national ranking doesn't bother No. 13 Northwest Missouri State one bit.
Not given their recent history in these situations.
Each of the past two years, lower-seeded Northwest Missouri State teams have pulled road upsets of Lonestar Conference powers Texas A&M Kingsville (35-31) and Midwestern State (38-31) in second round games.
Both required double-digit second half comebacks and showcased the Bearcats enduring playoff resolve.
"I think it's because we have high character kids," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Adam Dorrel. "I've said that all along. When there's 16 teams left in the country, they're all talented. It's what are the little intangibles I think that wins you games. I think it's a mentality thing."
Back in the relished underdog role again, fourth-seeded Northwest (10-2) has a chance to add to its list of favored second round victims, this time in a northern locale, when it visits No. 5 ranked and top-seeded Minnesota-St. Mankato Saturday at noon at Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato.
The two programs have split 16 all-time meetings and are playing for the first time since concluding a home-and-home series at Bearcat Stadium in 2006.
On the line is a trip to the quarterfinals to play either No. 2 seed Henderson State or No. 3 seed Missouri Western.
Expect the Bearcats, as usual, to throw caution to the wind.
"I think when you're the underdog and you're in that situation going on the road like this, I think you just throw everything you got at them," said Dorrel. "You got nothing to lose and it's rather enjoyable coaching. For the kids, I think it's enjoyable playing in a game like this. You don't have anything to lose. We're just going to go up there and have a lot of fun."
Northwest, which beat fifth-seeded Harding 35-0 in the first round of the playoffs, is making its ninth consecutive appearance in the second round.
The Bearcats have won their last eight second round games, including three straight on the road.
Minnesota St.-Mankato is making only its fifth appearance in the playoffs and first since 2009.
The Mavericks are seeking their first playoff win since 1993 and first-ever one at home.
One of four unbeatens left in the country, MSU-Mankato (11-0) posted its first perfect regular season in school history and won the Northern Sun Conference title for the time as well.
MSU had two wins by four points or less over Southwest Minnesota (34-31) and St. Cloud St (25-21) during the regular season. The other nine came by 10 points or more, most recently a 70-7 win over Upper Iowa.
The Mavericks have yet to face a playoff team since their schedule didn't include Minnesota-Duluth.
On the whole, Dorrel says they present much more of a challenge than Harding.
"These guys are better than Harding," said Dorrel. "I don't mean that to be disrespectful to Harding. They're just very well-coached. That's the thing I keep telling people. They don't make glaring mistakes. They're very solid. We got a big challenge in front of us Saturday. We got to play well to win."
Mankato has run the table to this point under some very unusual circumstances.
Their head coach Todd Hoffner was suspended prior to the season after pornographic images of his children were found on his school-issued cell phone.
The case is still being disputed.
Offensive coordinator Todd Keen has served as Mankato's acting head coach all season long.
Dorrel is familiar with Keen from his previous stint as the offensive coordinator at Nebraska-Omaha, a former MIAA school that ceased playing football after the 2010 season. MSU's roster also contains three former UNO players, including two that start.
While most of its players are from the region, Mankato is not your typical northern, power-running team on offense.
The Mavericks are more finesse, operating out of a spread set that utilizes the zone read similar to Pitt State and Missouri Western.
They average 37.8 points per game, 22nd best in the country.
"They're a very good passing team," said Dorrel. "They'll run the naked boot and pass like we do. They have a very difficult quarterback and a very difficult receiver. They're running a lot of what we call zone ride stuff with him trying to keep the ball in his hand. When they throw it, they're looking for that receiver. They can run the ball, but they do it in a different way."
Maverick quarterback Jon Wolf, a 6-4 junior, is completing 62.2 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. He's also the team's third leading rusher with 554 yards and eight touchdowns.
No. 1 wideout Adam Thielen has more than double the receptions (60) as anyone else on the team. He averages 85 receiving yards per game and has scored seven touchdowns. Tailbacks Connor Thomas and Andy Pfieffer have combined for 1,320 yards and 15 touchdowns on the year.
Both average better than five yards per carry.
The Mavericks are huge upfront, with four starting linemen weighing in at 300 pounds or better.
Mankato is also very stout on defense, giving up just 264.1 yards per game—second-best in the entire nation.
Defensive end Chris Schraudt (6-4, 270) has a team-high 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. All-conference corner Robert Gunderson leads the team with four interceptions.
"They've done a very good job all year of not giving up deep balls," said Dorrel. "I think we've done a really good all year of getting deep balls, so something has to give."
Northwest averages 42.5 points per game—seventh-best in the nation—and the Bearcats have turned it over only 13 times all year.
Leading rushers James Franklin III (723 yards, 12 TD's) and Jordan Simmons (450 yards, 10TD's) totaled just one carry last week, but both could be back in action.
Quarterback Trevor Adams has thrown 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions since returning from injury in week five. Tyler Shaw posted his third 100-yard receiving day of the year last week and leads the team with 53 receptions.
Northwest's defense bounced back from a rocky fourth quarter against Western to gain its first shutout of the year last week.
In doing so, the Bearcats created three more turnovers, raising their MIAA leading total to 34.
By Joey Falkoff email@example.com
The Maryville Daily Forum - Maryville, MO
By Joey Falkoff firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated Nov. 21, 2012 @ 5:27 pm
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