After no competition to face in Week 2 due to COVID-19 issues within Lincoln’s program, the No. 3 Bearcats now hit the road in rivalry fashion against Central Missouri in Week 3.
Northwest head coach Rich Wright expressed the difficulty of competing amid the pandemic, which features uncharted territory.
“We had no control about playing in the game, so all we could do is the best we possibly could at getting ready to play Central Missouri,” Wright said. “It’s always a big game for us, and it’s in Warrensburg, where we’ve always been challenged. So we’ll have our hands full.”
The Bearcats chose to hold a scrimmage in place of their canceled game last week, jumpstarting their game preparation against the Mules.
“We got a few extra practices in,” Northwest senior offensive lineman Tanner Owen said. “We’ve been getting in work and focusing on ourselves and trying to get better.”
Northwest captured a share of its 30th MIAA regular title with a 45-23 win over Central Missouri in their last meeting on Nov. 16, 2019.
The Mules were MIAA Co-Champions and a regional semifinalist in 2019, but they have three key pieces to replace: quarterback Brook Bolles, tight end Zach Davidson and wide receiver Shae Wyatt, who transferred to Tulane.
Central Missouri does return some experience, however, with its top running back duo in Devante Turner and Koby Wilkerson, who combined for nearly 2,000 yards and 21 scores in 2019.
Despite losing plenty on offense, Wright noted Central Missouri’s scheme hasn’t changed much.
“I don’t think that the structure of their offense is going to change exponentially,” Wright said. “There’s always going to be different features. I think their backs are kind of their go guys right now just because that’s what they had their experience back,” Wright said.
The Mules enter with a 0-2 record while the Bearcats are coming off their season opening road win over Fort Hays State.
In the win, senior running back Al McKeller toted the ball 28 times for 161 yards and a touchdown in his debut against the Tigers.
McKeller’s 28 carries against Fort Hays State were the most by a Northwest player since James Franklin rushed 28 times versus Central Missouri on Oct. 8, 2011.
“On the football field, he’s a special player. There’s hardly one tackle that’s going to break him down. So as an offensive line guy, you love to see that and love to have a back like that in the backfield that can make explosive plays like that,” Owen said. “If you make some hole for that guy, he’s gonna do something with it.”
With the extra time to gear up for their Week 3 road trip, Wright said the Bearcats are eager to get back into action.
“I just want to continue to evolve and grow as a football team,” Wright said. “You kind of have a vision for where you want this team to go and we’re definitely not there in Week 1, so we’ve got to get better each and every week.”
Northwest faces Central Missouri on Saturday at Bud Walton Stadium with a kickoff set for 1 p.m.
opens conference play
No. 12-ranked Northwest volleyball (7-1) will embark on MIAA play this week by playing host to Central Missouri Friday and traveling to Missouri Western Saturday.
Northwest ranks No. 7 in the nation in total assists (403) and total kills (439). The Bearcats lead the MIAA in total digs (557) and total attacks (1,158).
Odds and ends
The Northwest women’s golf team produced a 13-shot improvement in day two and placed 11th at the 22nd annual Northeastern State University Women’s Golf Classic on Tuesday ... The Bearcats two-round team score of 629 is the lowest the team has shot since posting 626 at the Augustana Invitational on Sept. 29-30, 2018 ... Northwest soccer dropped to 2-2 on the season over the weekend ... Northwest travels to Warrensburg to take on Central Missouri on Friday, Sept. 17 for its next match. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m ... The Northwest men’s and women’s cross country teams found themselves in two close team races in their first meet of the season ... The women edged St. Mary (Kan.) 27-29 while the nationally-ranked men’s team also narrowly beat out St. Mary 27-28 ... The teams will compete in the Woody Greeno/Jay Dirksen Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 18 in Lincoln, Nebraska.