TOPEKA, Kan. — Tyler Shaw spent time shuttling onto the field after short breaks Saturday. The rapid rest periods left little room for sideline adjustments but enough time for reflection and appreciation.
“When you’re sitting back there and just watching them do what they do, all you can say is just, ‘Wow, I’m glad that they’re on our side,’” said Shaw, No. 5 Northwest Missouri State’s senior No. 1 wide receiver, of a defense that held a fourth team to single-digit points.
Dismantling overwhelmed MIAA first-year teams and annual bottom-dwellers generated curiosity as to how strong the Bearcats’ defense had become, but Saturday’s 56-6 victory over No. 16 Washburn at Yager Stadium removed most of the doubt associated with one of Division II’s most menacing units.
Northwest (8-1, 7-1 MIAA) made Washburn (7-2, 7-2) — one of the conference’s best programs and a consistent Bearcats thorn — resemble an Oklahoma also-ran team and extended its win streak to seven games.
With only one victory against a winning team this season, Washburn still hovered among the league scoring leaders with 32.5 points per contest. Its latest output doubled as the program’s lowest point total in nine years and the widest scoring margin in the series’ 68-year history.
The overmatched Ichabods failed to eclipse 100 total yards until midway through the third quarter.
“They’re getting better each week,” Northwest coach Adam Dorrel said of his defense that’s now allowing 12.3 points per game — third in Division II. “The biggest thing I’m proud of is we’re getting pressure with a four-man rush. Any time you can do that, it opens you up in the back end to do so much. We can play a lot more coverages; we can disguise coverages.
“When you got (safeties) like Nate DeJong and Clarke Snodgrass back there — they’re kind of our information center — you can do a lot.”
A season-high six interceptions — three apiece from Washburn starter Mitch Buhler and change-of-pace backup Joel Piper — resulted in six Northwest touchdowns.
Both Bearcats safeties — and hybrid defensive back Travis Manning — collected picks. Since Week 6, the trio of back-line regulars has recorded eight interceptions.
“We were able to pick up on some of their tendencies based on formations and personnel. They had some predictable-type plays that we knew were coming,” said DeJong, whose career-high fifth interception came in the first quarter. “Mine not so much. I just had a guy fall down and worked over to the back side and got the pick.”
The first of Shaw’s two scoring receptions — a 31-yard catch-and-run — came after Snodgrass’ first-possession pick of Buhler, who entered with a five-to-one TD pass-to-interception ratio, but Manning’s INT signaled the run of competitive Northwest-Washburn tilts would endure at least a one-year hiatus.
Quarterback Trevor Adams fumbled on a zone-read exchange to Jordan Simmons late in the first quarter, spotting the Ichabods at the Bearats’ 6-yard line.
Manning, who snared a tide-turning pick against Washburn last year, grabbed the subsequent drive’s first pass in the end zone to prevent the Ichabods from tying the game at 7. The Bearcats then mounted an 80-yard scoring march that culminated with the first of James Franklin III’s two scores, and they eventually cruised to a 35-0 lead.
“It was unbelievable, wasn’t it? If we don’t get that interception and they score there, the momentum is totally swung in their favor,” Dorrel said. “I felt really good with our defense after that.”
While queries will continue for Washburn’s slumping signal-callers, Adams (216 passing yards, three touchdown tosses) turned in another efficient performance to further bury his shaky start to the season marred by errant throws and a sprained ankle. The junior now has 14 touchdown passes and three interceptions since returning from injury in late September.
“We do a lot with him, and we trust that he’s gonna make good decisions,” Dorrel said. “If it’s not there, he’s gonna throw it away. From a play-calling standpoint, it always helps when you trust your quarterback.”
Shaw’s second touchdown — which came after Brian Dixon’s interception with less than 30 seconds left in the first half — came after Adams bought time and found his top wideout after Shaw eluded double coverage from 13 yards out.
Saturday marked an unbeaten run through what looked like a strong, all-away-from-home October slate for Northwest at first glance.
The Bearcats now return home for their final two games — No. 15 Emporia State and what could be a showdown for the MIAA championship and a potential first-round playoff bye with No. 12 Missouri Western.
A defensive resurgence following a 31-21 Week 2 loss to Central Missouri opened the door for these chances that appeared lofty at the beginning of the road trek.
“It was a huge goal for us to win out in October. It’s a tough schedule just being on the road for four straight weeks,” senior linebacker Collin DeBuysere said. “We really wanted to make sure we did well going into the final games of the conference.”