Thursday night’s game marked the ninth time in a row Northwest has won its season opener, though Missouri Western didn’t go down without a fight in a 45-35 Bearcat victory Thursday at Spratt Stadium.

“We were talking about the rivalry since camp. This is one of the greatest rivalries I’ve ever been apart of so it was nice to come out here and help the team get a win,” Northwest running back Justin Rankin said. “Our crowd was crazy, they were loud.”

The Bearcats offense was explosive in the first half, getting on the scoreboard first with a 57-yard fumble recovery ran back for a touchdown by Sam Phillips after a mishandled snap by Western (0-1, 0-1 MIAA) senior Wyatt Steigerwald.

“It always feels good. We were far from perfect tonight. There’s a lot of things that we got to correct. We went down three of our starting defensive backs tonight and so things got a little interesting but I was proud of the way our kids battled through,” Northwest (1-0, 1-0 MIAA) head coach Rich Wright said.

Rich Wright was confident going into the matchup in transfer Imoni Donadelle from West Hills Community College in the offseason.

Donadelle proved him right by scoring on a 60-yard pass from Braden Wright with 5:24 left in the first quarter.

“Obviously we didn’t execute the way we wanted to throughout the whole game. But I was really proud of kind of the way the team came together,” Braden Wright said. “That’s kind of what made the difference tonight, is we hung around and we had to do something so we found a way to get it done.”

Missouri Western made sure to answer back with dominance however, with an 8-yard pass by Steigerwald to Luke Vang.

The Bearcats scored 14 unanswered after on Isaiah Strayhorn’s 5-yard run and Phillips 29-yard interception return to build the lead to 28-7.

The Griffons kept the Bearcats in check before the end of the first half. Wyatt Steigerwald’s 2-yard quarterback keeper capped a 99-yard scoring drive and cut the deficit to 28-14.

“It was big, a big confidence boost going into half,” Steigerwald said. “We just didn’t finish the right way.”

Turnovers made the ball game in the end.

“We put ourselves in a really bad situation there,” Missouri Western head coach Matt Williamson said. “Super proud of the guys. That’s who we are. We’re not gonna give up and are gonna fight all the way through.”

Rich Wright added, “Turnovers play a huge part. We scored 14 points defensively in the first half off of turnovers. Those missed cues they kind of answer with the big kickoff returns … but settling down and playing better down the stretch is what ultimately gave us the win.”

Parker Sampson connected on a 38-yard field goal to put the Bearcats up 31-21 with 4:37 left in the third.

Western then found itself in a first-goal from the 27 after two penalties. On third down, Steigerwald found Devon Holmes for a touchdown to pull within a single score.

Missouri Western completed the comeback on a third-and-goal form the 3-yard line early in the fourth. Under duress, Steigerwald found a lane and somersaulted into the end zone to put the Griffons ahead 35-31 with 12:38 to play.

Despite the shakiness throughout, Braden Wright found the groove on the ensuing drive. After a pair of 10-plus-yard rushes by Rankin, the sophomore connected for 28 yards with Marqus Andrews before a 10-yard rushing score to regain the lead.

Western’s next two drives ended with a sack and interception by Trey Washington, leading to a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Raunig to seal the deal.

Wright finished 8-for-18 for 130 yards and added 19 yards on the ground. His counterpart in Steigerwald competed 50 percent of his passes for 270 yards, with three receivers over 70 yards.

Rankin finished with 20 carries for 130 yards.

The Bearcats now hold a 16-6 record over the Griffons in St. Joseph.

“They just kept saying we need you, put the game on your back … finish the game out for us,” Justin Rankin said. “I got to go, so I’m real thankful for them.”

Northwest will return home next Saturday to face Washburn, while the Griffons travel to No. 11 Fort Hays State on Thursday.

Micaela Dea can be reached at micaela.dea@newspressnow.com

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Micaela Dea is a sports reporter for News-Press NOW. She graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Growing up in San Diego, Micaela loves to travel, meet new people, and tell stories. Have a story idea? Don't hesitate to email!