MARYVILLE, Mo. — Despite an undefeated record and notable conference honors, identity is one thing the No. 7 ranked Northwest Bearcats are still searching for this season.

“I think that’s an ongoing thing. I don’t know if you ever truly know who you are because the parts change constantly. What I’m looking for in our identity is to become a complete football team,” head coach Rich Wright said.

Sophomore quarterback Braden Wright posted his first collegiate 300-yard passing game with a career-high 305 yards, all in the first half, in the Bearcats’ (4-0) 59-10 win over the (2-2) Central Oklahoma Bronchos.

Meanwhile, Rich Wright finally saw something from his players he had waited for all season.

“I felt like our special teams units played very well on Saturday,” Wright said. “We changed a lot of things in the offseason about everything to do with our offense, how we call plays, how it’s structured, went to more of a concept-based passing system.”

With junior wide receiver Imoni Donadelle named as the MIAA’s football special teams player of the week, it now marks the fourth consecutive week that a Bearcat has earned one of the league’s weekly honors.

“You have different strengths and weaknesses every year. For the last three years, we’ve hung our hat on our defense,” Wright said.

Northwest ranks No. 3 in the nation in scoring offense at 52 points per game. It’s also the second straight week that the Bearcats have scored 50 or more points in consecutive games since 2016.

“I think what you’re starting to see is them getting comfortable in the new system and it’s allowed them to take off,” Wright said. “Hopefully as we evolve defensively and we get some of the injured guys back, we’ll continue to progress and make an uptick on that side of the ball as well.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the team ranks No. 2 in the nation in passes intercepted with nine.

“We’ve been working together and trusting each other more as a defense,” sophomore linebacker Sam Phillips added. “We can still definitely improve. But within communication and trusting our teammates, I do think we’ve gotten a lot better.”

Northwest also leads the nation in kickoff return average at 40.5 yards per returns, and the team has returned six kickoffs this season for a total of 243 yards.

“I attribute (getting better) to older guys and coaches really pushing our practice and our energy toward practice, our physicality in practice and overall just having a good practice from start to finish. And that’s something we struggled with early in the season and we’ve been getting better at it,” Phillips said.

Rich Wright added, “We still in some positions are a relatively young football team. We’ve got to continue to grow and develop depth. I’m putting the pedal to the metal this week in practice and hopefully our kids respond.”

Northwest travels to Kansas to take on Emporia State this Saturday at 2 p.m.

On the rise

For the third time this season, volleyball junior setter Maddy Ahrens has been honored as the MIAA Specialist of the Week. Ahrens guided the Bearcats to a pair of road league victories at Pittsburg State and Missouri Southern. Northwest hosts Fort Hays State on Friday at 6 p.m. and Nebraska-Kearney on Saturday at 3 p.m...The men’s cross-country team has moved up to No. 3 in the USTFCCCA’s Central Region rankings, the highest in-season regional ranking in program history. The Bearcat cross-country teams will travel to Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Saturday to take part in the Chile Pepper Festival.

Micaela Dea can be reached at micaela.dea@newspressnow.com. Follow her on Twitter: @NPNowDea

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!