MARYVILLE, Mo — No. 7 Northwest Missouri State returns to its home turf this afternoon looking to remain undefeated as it takes on the Central Oklahoma Bronchos.

Senior linebacker Andy Hessler said, “I think this is our best opponent that we’ve played. It’s going to go back and forth, and I think that we’ve shown as a team that when we go up, and then a team comes back, we’re able to finish them out and win the game.”

Northwest (3-0) holds an 8-3 lead in the all-time series versus Central Oklahoma, and the Bearcats are 3-2 versus the Bronchos (2-1) in Maryville.

“I think the things that UCO does well offensively is that they’re balanced, but they run the football well. I feel like we match up well up front. That’s usually one of our strengths in a football team is our front four,” Rich Wright, the team’s head coach, said.

The Bronchos scored a 31-21 win over the Bearcats last season in Edmond, Oklahoma, but Central Oklahoma’s last win in Maryville came on Sept. 5, 1992.

Since joining the MIAA in 2012, the Bronchos are 0-3 in games played at Bearcat Stadium.

Wright added, “Their skill at the receiver position is very good. Flip it over to the other side, I think we’re developing a mentality as far as being able to run the football. But we also feel like we have some things that we can do to maybe exploit them to some degree.”

“We want to be better (defensively) and then obviously limit the explosive plays,” Hessler said. “We gave up six explosive plays against Southern, and those can lose football games. So we gotta keep those to a minimum.”

Central Oklahoma’s head coach Nick Bobeck led the team to an 8-4 season last year, plus a win in the Heart of Texas Bowl over Angelo State.

“We’re going to have to play well to neutralize the back. They have a transfer kid that’s a really good player. Their quarterback’s a run threat this week, so that’s going to be a different type of challenge than what we faced last week,” Wright said.

Saturday’s game is a part of Northwest’s Family Weekend festivities. In honor of late head coach Scott Bostwick, fans are encouraged to wear red hats and black shirts along with the teams’ black jerseys.

“Being able to be with Coach Bostwick now, his (Scott’s) brother, every single day as my position coach, just hearing the little things he would say, the little things he would do, just shows his stamp he’s made on this program,” Hessler said.

“We’re trying to honor family. I felt that way about Scott, but there’s somebody who helped them get to that meeting room,” Wright said. “But what’s your why. This is Family Day, and so symbolically, who’re you playing for this week?”

Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. at Bearcat Stadium.

Micaela Dea can be reached at 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!