By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
Missouri Western made a monster play early in the first quarter defensively when a pass attempt by Northwest Missouri State quarterback Mike Hohensee was ruled a fumble and taken 56 yards the other way for a touchdown by freshman Brandon Johnson.
The Griffons created a massive spark in the first five minutes, but were unable to ignite much of anything else for the rest of the game.
No. 2 Northwest (4-0) scored 23 unanswered points on their next four possessions after the fumble, and they salted the game away late with their running game in a 30-7 win over Missouri Western at Spratt Stadium in St. Joseph Saturday.
After a scoreless third quarter, Northwest started their last scoring drive at their own seven-yard line with 13:25 to play. What followed was a 14-play, 93-yard march that ended with a two-yard touchdown run by senior running back Al McKeller.
The touchdown put the Bearcats ahead by 23 with just over six minutes left.
An All-American transfer from the University of Indianapolis who has over 4,000 career rushing yards, McKeller accounted for 77 yards on the final drive alone, and finished the game with 171 yards rushing on 28 carries and two touchdowns.
While the Bearcats' offense certainly had their share of big plays, finishing with 433 total yards, their defense dominated throughout, holding the Griffons (2-3) to just 101 total yards of offense, including just eight rushing yards.
"On the execution part of it, we're not getting beat, but we're beating ourselves," Missouri Western head coach Matt Williamson said. "We're either doing something incorrect or our technique is right and we're trying to do too much. We're not finishing blocks, we're not finishing tackles. There's a lot to it."
Missouri Western had 11 total possessions Saturday. Ten of them ended with a punt, including four three-and-outs. Another drive in the second half ended with a fumble.
Penalties were again a problem for the Griffons Saturday. After committing 10 penalties against Washburn the week prior, Western was called on 10 more penalties for 80 yards against Northwest.
One of those was an offsides penalty that negated a Devan Burrell interception in the first quarter that would have given the Griffons the ball back up 7-0. Several holding calls negated what would have been big offensive plays for MWSU.
"The thing that's killing us the most obviously is you look at the flags," Williamson pointed out. "You look at some of the holdings, and we're not executing. We're not disciplined. We lost this game, because we're undisciplined as a group, as a unit."
Hohensee put together a brilliant first half in the passing game for Northwest, completing 12-of-16 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns. He left the game late in the first half with injury and wouldn't return.
While Northwest was held scoreless in the third quarter, Missouri Western struggled to get anything going offensively in the second half.
Field position was a problem for the Griffons all night, as they started four drives inside their own 15-yard line, including one that started at their own one-yard line.
A couple of botched kick returns, a couple of holding calls on those returns and two punts pinned inside the 20 had Missouri Western playing in the shadow of their own end zone for much of the game.
"The flags put us in some really bad situations," Williamson remarked. "It made our offense try to move the ball 80-90 yards. That's a difficult task against a really good defense. Then we punt the ball and they start in plus territory, and we put our defense in some bad situations."
Quarterback Anthony Vespo got a few things going in the passing game, especially early. He completed 7-of-12 throws for 71 yards. He did however irritate his right shoulder Saturday - the same shoulder that got dinged up the week prior at Washburn but was rehabbed this past week in practice.
After a deep throw in the third quarter, Vespo felt some discomfort in his right arm, and was taken out. Freshman Reagan Jones relieved Vespo halfway through the third quarter, but the Griffon offense remained stagnant.
Missouri Western achieved multiple first downs on just two of their 11 possessions and crossed midfield only once.
Five sacks by Northwest didn't help things, either.
"We got into a situation where we were down and they knew we were going to have to throw it a little bit more," Williamson said. "(Northwest) just pinned their ears back. They got great pressure. O-line didn't protect very well."
The Griffons head back on the road October 9 to face No. 12 Nebraska-Kearney (4-1), who was upset at Fort Hays State 42-35 on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.
Pregame coverage will start at 1 p.m. on KFEQ Radio (680 AM, 95.3 FM).
The Griffons will study the Lopers in depth, just like they would any other opponent. However, Williamson wants to challenge himself, his staff and the team to find the answer to one question in the days leading up to their next game.
"When are we going to stop delivering, and giving things away, and force people to take them from us?" Williamson said. "That's the reality right now for me with this team...a lot of very disappointing things. A lot of corrections that I have to make, that our staff has to make."
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.