Friday, November 19, 2010

Northwest hosts Missouri Western in an NCAA playoff game

Rematch between rivals set for noon Saturday

MARYVILLE, Mo. — Earlier in the week coach Mel Tjeerdsma heard the perfect words coming from his football team.

It wasn’t talk about Northwest Missouri State facing rival Missouri Western in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.

The players also weren’t praising themselves about completing a fifth straight undefeated season in the MIAA or the conference winning streak reaching 46 in a row.

Those thoughts are best left for the fans and media to fill time before the next big game arrives.
The players were talking about the level of effort needed to succeed in the playoffs.

No matter how hard a team battles to win a conference title, the intensity goes up another two or three notches in the playoffs.

“It is do or die now,” said offensive lineman Dane Wardenburg. “I want my career to go as long as possible. It takes five games to win it. Right now we are in a five-game season.”

This is the mentality Northwest, 9-1, will take into its first-round game against Missouri Western, 8-3, noon Saturday at Bearcat Stadium.

More than any other squad in the 24-team playoff field, the Bearcats fully understand what it takes to advance all the way to Florence, Ala., the site of the championship game.

Northwest has made an unprecedented five straight trips to the title game and are looking to make it six.

“It’s a mental thing,” Tjeerdsma said. “Your preparation has to be better. You have to pay a little more attention to detail. The thing about the playoffs is every game is going to be tough and each game that you advance gets tougher.

“The thing is our kids have experienced that and understand that. That was one of the first things they said: ‘Playoffs are starting, we got to raise our level.’ I was glad to hear that because that’s exactly what it is.”

Basically, the slate is clean. Winning the national title last season has no bearing on how the Bearcats will play Saturday.
Even the 42-0 victory over Missouri Western on Oct. 2 at Bearcat Stadium doesn’t mean much now.
“This will be interesting,” Wardenburg said. “We know each other well. It’s going to be a good game. The score wasn’t quite how it was on the field last time.

“We know they are going to play better. They are playing better. I’ve seen that on film. We will have to raise our level and go out there and play as hard as we can on Saturday.”

Simply put, the Bearcats are not going to take the Griffons lightly. That’s not what playoff football is about.

“I know the first time they weren’t quite up to par,” said senior defensive back Ryan Jones. “Now I know they are going to be coming with it.

“Everybody knows it is playoffs; it is do or die. If you win you keep on going. If you lose you are done.”

It hasn’t always been pretty late in the season, but winning is exactly what the Bearcats have been doing.
If one or two plays would have gone differently, Northwest’s 17-16 victory over Central Missouri two weeks ago could have been a loss. The same is true for the 22-16 triumph over Pittsburg State last week.

“It’s like our coach says, ‘big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.’ I think that has helped us a lot in the past two weeks,” Jones said.

The defense has carried the Bearcats the last two weeks, but it was the offense that had big games for much of the season. Northwest scored 41 or more points for seven straight weeks.

“I couldn’t be happier for the defense,” Wardenburg said. “They are playing really, really well right now. We need them to keep doing that, but if they don’t, it is our job as an offense to pick them up.”
Tjeerdsma gives credit to Central and Pittsburg State for the close games.

“We faced two good football teams,” Tjeerdsma said. “Central Missouri is a really good team, and I think Pittsburg State is not a bad football team. They got better as the season went along. They had a lot to play for in that last game.

“As much as we wanted to forget it, the Central Missouri game haunted us a little bit, kind of a letdown. Thank goodness we were at Arrowhead. That helped us.”

But all of that is irrelevant now. It’s playoff time, and that means it is Bearcat time.

“I think we all know we can play better,” Wardenburg said. “In the playoffs you have to. Every week you have to play better. That’s the biggest thing about playoffs. If you don’t play better every week you are going to get beat because the teams get better every week.”

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