MARYVILLE, Missouri - The Northwest Missouri State University football team advanced to the second round of the 2019 NCAA Division II playoffs with a 7-6 victory over the Harding Bisons at Bearcat Stadium.
Northwest (11-1 overall) moves to 30-3 all-time at home in the playoffs. It also marks the 23rd straight playoff victory at home for the Bearcats.
In a game with a minimal amount of scoring, the Bisons were able to score with a 1:14 left in the game on a six-yard keeper by quarterback Tristan Tucker. Harding head coach Paul Simmons went for the two-point conversion, but the Bearcat defense came up with yet another stop.
Coming into the matchup both defenses were rated as fierce competition as Harding ranked No. 22 in rush defense in the country and No. 13 in pass defense in the country. From Northwest's side, its rush defense ranked No. 10 and for a run-based team like Harding that causes problems.
The problems started in the first half as both teams were held in check. Harding at the end of the first half had a total of 39 rushing yards and no passing yards, and per play was averaging 1.6 yards per play. Northwest was struggling on its front as it managed 42 rushing yards and 134 passing yards for 2.8 yards per play.
Harding's lack of yards in the first half was built by the pressure of the Northwest defense, as the Bisons had their fair share of miscues. From missing reads to fumbling the ball three times, Harding couldn't muster anything which kept its offense in check with only three first-half first downs.
The only score in the first half came on the opening drive as the Bearcats went 75 yards in nine plays. Braden Wright found Kyle Raunig in the end zone with 11:57 in the first quarter. For Raunig it was his fourth catch on the year and his second touchdown.
The high-powered defenses continued to stall all momentum from both sides as the second half turned into a punting battle as the focus was on field position.
Harding managed 151 yards total in the game, as it had 119 yards in the second half. Fifty-six of those yards came on the final drive that ended in a touchdown. Northwest, on the other side, managed just 29 yards in the second half (9 rushing, 20 passing).
One of the biggest plays of the half came when Harding went for it on fourth and three from the 49-yard line. Harding's quarterback Robert Wilcke fumbled the snap and was hit immediately by Spencer Phillips and Andy Hessler.
Though that was one of the biggest plays, the most critical play of the game came in the closing moments of the game.
After a 21-yard rush, the Bison were given a quality field position at the Bearcat 32 with 4:40 left in the game. Harding gained another set of downs and had 2:30 on the clock to score from the 14-yard line. The clock continued to click down, as Bisons were able to score with 1:14 left in the game to make the score 7-6 in favor of Northwest, but Harding went for the victory. They ran a toss to the right side and was met by a crowd of Northwest defenders to keep the Bearcats on top, 7-6.
Harding tried to recover the onside kick but was unable to grab it. This allowed the Bearcats to kneel out the clock and escape with a 7-6 victory over the Bisons.
Northwest will be at home next Saturday against Lindenwood in the second round of the playoffs. The start time will be determined Monday. Lindenwood defeated Ouachita Baptist, 41-38. Online ticket sales will begin Sunday at 5 p.m. for Saturday's contest vs. Lindenwood. In-person ticket sales will begin Monday at 8 a.m. at the Administration Building on the Northwest campus. In-person ticket sales will close at the end of business on Tuesday with the Northwest campus being closed for Thanksgiving. On Saturday, Nov. 30, ticket sales and gates will open 90 minutes prior to kick. Stadium gates will also open 90 minutes prior to the game vs. Lindenwood.
Notes: Northwest added to its Division II playoff win record with its 49th all-time playoff victory … Northwest is 49-17 in the playoffs … Harding falls to 5-6 all-time in the playoffs with three of the losses coming at Northwest … Northwest’s Brody Buck recorded a sack of Harding for only the fifth sack this season allowed by the Bisons … Harding was limited to nine first downs … Northwest was held to a season-low 51 rushing yards … the game featured zero turnovers … Braden Wright passed for 154 yards on 16-of-28 passing with a touchdown … Alec Tatum tallied a team-high five receptions for 63 yards … Brody Buck notched a career-high 13 tackles … Jackson Barnes totaled 12 tackles … Zach Howard posted a team-high two tackles-for-loss … Harding won the time of possession battle, 34:41 to 25:19.