EMPORIA, Kan. — After being shell-shocked early Saturday, No. 7 Northwest Missouri State found a way to survive and advance on the road with a 34-23 win over Emporia State.
With few exceptions at the early points in the season, Northwest (5-0) has held a lead over its opponent at any given moment in a game. The Bearcats found themselves in a similar position to a Week 2 start against Washburn when the Ichabods took a 7-0 lead over Northwest into the second quarter. Roughly over a minute into Saturday’s game, Northwest faced a touchdown deficit against Emporia (2-3) when Hornets quarterback Dalton Cowan connected with wideout Cole Schumacher for a 24-yard score.
“I told our kids all week, you are going to get (Emporia’s) best shot,” Northwest coach Rich Wright said.
“They listened, but they didn’t listen. I always think it’s good when you can learn a lesson and still come out victorious, but I think we have to come out and play better than what we did in the first half.”
The blank space on the scoreboard for the Bearcats was altered when backup quarterback and punter Mike Hohensee, coupled with the wind on his back, had a punt downed at the Hornets’ 1-yard line. Two plays later, the Bearcats were able to wrangle down Emporia’s Carlos Grace in the end zone for a safety.
A field goal from the Hornets’ Clar Schoonover to put Emporia ahead 10-2 would be answered by a field goal from his counterpart in Northwest kicker Parker Sampson, leaving the Hornets with a 10-5 advantage over No. 7 Northwest at the end of the first quarter.
The first lead of the game for Northwest came with 7:19 left in the second quarter when Hohensee crossed the goal line from 2 yards out, giving the Bearcats a 12-10 lead. Hohensee, despite being a backup, used that score to mark this third consecutive game with a rushing touchdown.
“I’ve got to be ready to either punt or go in at quarterback and do whatever,” Hohensee said. “I just stay engaged and stay ready for the next snap.”
Emporia answered and the Hornets took a 17-12 lead into the half, leaving the Bearcats with their first halftime deficit of the season.
In a day when Bearcats quarterback Braden Wright compiled a mere 87 yards passing, 57 of those came on the second play of the second half when Wright connected with receiver Imoni Donadelle for a score, putting Northwest ahead of Emporia 19-17 with 14:09 left in the third quarter.
The Hornets responded with an 11-play, 75-yard drive to regain a 23-19 advantage over the Bearcats. Northwest answered back with a drive of their own, a missed point-after attempt from Sampson would hold the Bearcats’ lead at 25-23 with 7:12 left in the third.
The miss on the extra point would be the lone one for Sampson on the day. A 53-yard field goal was the beginning of a string of makes for Sampson, which was the difference in the game.
“That felt great,” Sampson said. “I’m blessed that the wind was like this today. … I’m thankful that Coach Wright gave me the opportunity.
“I’ve missed two 51-yarders this year and I just want to thank the coaching staff for letting me go out and kick one that was even further and I was thankful enough to bang it through.”
Including the 53-yard field goal, Sampson went on to score the last nine points for the Bearcats, leading to the eventual 34-23 defeat of Emporia State.
The survive and advance for the Bearcats on the day wasn’t ideal, Rich Wright said. But it got the job done.
“I have higher expectations for our football team than what we exhibited today,” Rich Wright said. “We will get after it in practice next week.”