The Northwest Missouri State Bearcats became the college football Division II National Champions on Saturday with a 43-28 win over the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears, giving them a perfect 15-0 season.
The Bearcats decided to be aggressive early, going for it on 4th-and-7 around the 30-yard line on their first drive. Star quarterback Trevor Adams was able to find Reuben Thomas for the first down, with the wide receiver breaking several tackles on his way to a 29-yard touchdown to put the Bearcats up 7-0 early.
Things did not start off well for the Bears. They were getting nothing with their triple-option offense, and after a field goal for Northwest Missouri State, they promptly fumbled the ball away. Billy Creason ran the ball in for a four-yard touchdown just a few plays later, and suddenly the Bearcats were already up 17-0 with five minutes left in the first quarter.
Lenoir-Rhyne finally started to find some open lanes on the right side of the offense, breaking off a couple of nice runs on the next drive. The ground game kept moving along, before Chris Robinson was finally able to get the Bears on the board on a three-yard touchdown run to make it 17-7.
But the defense for the Bearcats stepped up once again. With just around six minutes left in the second quarter, Northwest Missouri State was able to force Lenoir-Rhyne to punt from its own one-yard line. The punt was then blocked, giving the Bearcats the safety, the ball and the momentum. The Bearcats wrapped the half up with a field goal, going into the locker room up 22-7.
The Bearcats got the second half started quickly with a big 43-yard reception from Creason, but they were unable to score on the first drive after failing to convert on fourth down. Lenoir-Rhyne started driving down the field, but the team fumbled once again on an attempted pitch, giving Northwest Missouri State the ball once again.
Adams was then able to find Thomas once again for a touchdown, this one coming on an impressive 30-yard strike down the middle of the field to put his team up 29-7 as the Bearcats continued to pull away.
Despite being injured and not able to start the game, quarterback Josh Justice came in for the Bears after Teverrius Jones limped off the field. Shortly after, Justice was able to find Greyson Wells for a huge 59-yard touchdown to put his team back in the game once again.
But Justice wasn't able to inspire a magical comeback. Brady Bolles was able to run the ball into the end zone during the fourth quarter after another bomb from Adams, putting the Bearacts up 36-14. That didn't keep the Bears from trying some wild plays, however, as they ran the option pass with Corron Boston finding Wells for the 34-yard score.
The Bearcats wrapped things up with another touchdown from Adams to go up 43-21 with a 17-yard strike to Jason Jozaites in the back of the end zone. Justice was able to grab a touchdown with just around a minute left, but the Bearcats got the win.
Adams had a great game for the Bearcats, going 15-of-25 with 272 passing yards and three touchdowns. Billy Creason was productive as well, putting up 125 total yards and a score on the ground. For the Bears, Wells came up with just two catches, but they went for 93 yards and two scores.
Former D-II associate director Josh Looney congratulated the Bearcats and provided this picture.
This was the first national title for Northwest Missouri State since 2009, back when it had made five consecutive trips to the national championship game. The Bearcats are hoping that they can repeat that kind of success now, as they proved to have a top-tier team this season.
For the Bears, this was their first appearance ever in the national championship, and while the players will be upset with the loss after coming so far, the fact that they made it this far says a lot about the development of their football program.
It was a fun game with plenty of big plays, and the Bearcats have once again become the top team in Division II football.