MARYVILLE, Mo. (AP) Despite a lackluster offensive performance in the second half, Northwest Missouri State advances to the Division II National Championship game with a 38-23 win over West Georgia.
After being held scoreless in the second half and seeing their 24-6 first-half lead dwindle to 24-23, Brady Bolles hit George Sehl for a 64-yard touchdown in single coverage on a go-route to take a 31-23 lead.
The catch extended the lead, but more importantly, gave life to a team that had not had momentum since the first half.
”It’s unbelievable,” Sehl said about the feeling of making the catch. ”I remember (Northwest Missouri coach Adam Dorrel) right after they missed that field goal saying that we’re going to play to win this game.”
On the ensuing drive, Bearcats defensive back Bryce Enyard picked off Dallas Dickey and took it to the house for a 61-yard touchdown to go up two scores with 3:39 to play.
”It was a really good feeling,” Enyard said. ”When we were on the sidelines, we kept talking to the coaches and like `Hey, I’m figuring these guys out.’ We just stayed patient and they kept coming at me. We knew we were going to get one of them.”
Northwest Missouri is 14-0 and looks to claim its fifth national championship and first since 2013 in its ninth trip to the national championship – the first at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas – to take on Shepherd (W.V.), 34-32 winners over Grand Valley State in the other semifinal.
The championship game is de facto home game for the Bearcats, who are located 90 miles away from the title venue.
The loss for West Georgia (12-2) is its second semifinal loss in as many years, but Wolves coach Will Hall hopes the loss is just another stepping stone to elite status.
”Today hurts,” Hall said. ”We’ve come a long way at West Georgia in a short amount of time and we’re not going anywhere. We’ll be back in this moment again.”
Northwest jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter after a 3-yard run by running back Cameron Wilcox and a 24-yard field goal by Simon Mathiesen.
The undersized offensive line paved the way for the Northwest running game that ran for 92 yards on 15 carries in the first quarter.
”I thought it set the momentum and set our play action up,” Dorrel said. ”It’s tough. Their front seven, they’re not just playing four D-linemen, they’re rotating eight dudes in there. Those eight guys are men.”
The Bearcats extended their lead to 17-0 at the 13:47 mark in the second quarter as Bolles hit tight end TJ Schieber in the back of the end zone on a play-action pass.
West Georgia kicker Hunter Heck hit two field goals in the second quarter to make it 17-6, but Bolles responded with a 7-yard touchdown run on a broken pass play with 32 seconds left in the half.
Bolles tallied 235 yards in the air and 53 yards on the ground en route to three total touchdowns.
The third quarter belonged to the Wolves as they cleaned up the fundamentals to stifle the Northwest attack, holding the Bearcats to 70 totals yards in the period.
”I feel like we didn’t see anything we weren’t expecting early,” West Georgia defensive end Alex Armah said. ”We just weren’t finishing tackles and weren’t executing at a high level. I feel like we got it together and started making something happen.”
West Georgia made it a one-possession game in the third quarter with two long touchdown passes from Dickey – of 58 yards to Telvin Brown and 40 yards to Qa Walker – to make it 24-20 with 8:04 left in the third quarter.
Dickey completed just three passes in the third quarter but racked up 107 yards in the process, along with giving the Wolves a chance at the comeback win.
”That’s something we’ve been practicing for a long time now,” Dickey said of the long balls. ”It’s carried throughout the season, and we knew we were going to have to hit some big-time shots to win this game.”
Dickey finished 13 of 34 for 268 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Heck added a 33-yard field goal early in the fourth for West Georgia but missed a 53-yarder that would have been a career long to take the lead with 4:45 left in regulation.
”Hunter makes them from there a lot,” Hall said. ”He’s got a strong leg and the wind was kind of swirling. At the time, it was kind of blowing that way. Hunter felt like he had it.”