Erasing deficits of 21 points at the half and 14 in the fourth quarter, No. 13 Northwest Missouri State put itself in position to pull off yet another improbable playoff comeback win Saturday.
Unlike the past two seasons, the Bearcats couldn't quite finish this one off.
Northwest Missouri State quarterback Trevor Adams threw his season-high fourth interception on the first possession of double overtime, and top-seeded Minnesota St.-Mankato's Sam Brockshus nailed a 27-yard field goal to preserve a 38-35 win over the fourth-seeded Bearcats in the second round of the playoffs at Blakeslee Stadium.
The loss ended Northwest Missouri State's season at 10-3 and their streak of quarterfinal appearances at eight.
It also prevented a rematch with rival Missouri Western.
Instead, it will be Minnesota-St. Mankato (12-0) that hosts the Griffons (12-1) in the next round.
"I think I'm still maybe a little bit shocked," Northwest Missouri State head coach Adam Dorrel said in the post-game press conference. "Because there was no doubt in my mind I thought we were going to win that game. Our kids always fight hard, and they've always done that when we're in a hole."
Northwest had won four playoff games in the last two years when trailing by double-digits in the second half and nearly made it happen again.
Down 21-0 at the half, Northwest used two turnovers and two blocked punts by sophomore Jayron Robinson in the second half to forge a 28-28 tie in the fourth quarter that stood until overtime.
Both teams scored on their opening possessions of overtime, and Northwest was headed toward a go-ahead score in the second overtime when Adams was picked off by freshman corner Brian Otto in the end zone.
The fatal interception was his first since throwing three in the first half. It came on a second and goal play from the 5-yard line and followed a 16-yard completion to tight end Vinny Defeo on third and 11.
Mankato ran the ball four straight times with back Andy Pfieffer for 15 yards before Brockshus' game-winning 27 yard field goal.
Ironically, that's the same distance Midwestern State's kicker missed from last year at the end of regulation in Northwest's second round overtime playoff win.
Northwest got the game to double overtime with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Adams to running back Jordan Simmons who returned from a one-game absence. It was Adams' third touchdown pass after the half and second scored by Simmons.
The Bearcats initially lined up to go for two and the win, but after a timeout by the Mavericks, they decided just to kick the tying extra point.
MSU-Mankato scored the first overtime touchdown on a 6-yard run by Pfieffer—his second touchdown of the game.
Page 2 of 3 - The Mavericks went ahead 28-14 eight seconds into the fourth quarter, but the Bearcats got it tied with back-to-back touchdowns in a 1:46 span.
Adams hit senior Tyler Shaw for a 17-yard touchdown with 8:57 left to make it 28-21. After a Maverick three-and-out, Robinson's second blocked punt set the Bearcats up at the 4-yard line, and Simmons scored one play later to tie it up.
Turnovers by the Mavericks on their next two possessions gave Northwest two cracks in Maverick territory to take the lead.
Both times, Northwest came away with nothing.
The first drive, set up by Brian Dixon's fifth interception with 4:37 left, started at their own 43.
Simmons ran for 14 yards on first down, but a holding penalty on the next play put the Bearcats in a first and 18 situation they couldn't climb out of. Northwest wound up punting back to Mankato on fourth and three from the 42.
With 47 seconds left, Northwest safety Nate DeJong recovered a fumble from Maverick quarterback Jon Wolf at the 41-yard line. Northwest had one timeout and needed to gain only 10-15 yards to get into kicker Todd Adolf's field goal range.
Instead, Adams was sacked on first and second down.
With no timeouts left, Northwest chose to spike the ball on third down and then punted on fourth down from the Maverick 42, essentially letting both plays go to waste.
Northwest had scored each of the first four times it touched the ball in the second half before the two empty drives at the end.
Billy Creason's 9-yard touchdown run with 11:25 left in the third quarter made it 21-7. The Bearcats closed the gap to 21-14 on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Adams to tight end Joel Gantz with 5:08 left in the third.
Mankato answered with its only second half touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Wolf to Keyvan Rudd to go up 28-14 with 14:52 left in the game. It occurred on a third and six play.
The Mavericks scored on every other first half drive and turned two of Adams' three interceptions into points to build a 21-0 halftime lead.
Adams threw his first interception on the game's opening possession to Robert Gunderson at the Bearcat 22-yard line. The Mavericks capitalized on the short field and went ahead 7-0 on a 1-yard run by Pfieffer.
Mankato drove 75 yards for its next touchdown a little over a minute into the second quarter. It came on a 5-yard pass from Wolf to Jeff Burns.
A 1-yard touchdown run by Wolf capped a 14-play, 65-yard drive and made it 21-0 with 2:35 left in the second quarter.
Adolf missed a field goal from 46 yards out before the half, keeping the deficit at 21 points.
Page 3 of 3 - Wolf finished 10-19 with 158 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He added 68 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Pfeiffer ran for a game-high 120 yards and two scores, joining Missouri Western's Michael Hill as the only two backs to surpass 100 against Northwest all season.
Playing with a cast around his injured left forearm, Simmons gutted through the pain to lead Northwest with 96 yards rushing on 17 attempts. He added four catches for 38 yards and a touchdown. Adams and Creason each rushed for 45 yards.
Adams threw only six incompletions in the game, finishing 22-32 with 169 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Bryce Young had a team-high six catches for 44 yards.
Northwest running back James Franklin III was held out of action with an injury he suffered early in the team's first round playoff win over Harding.