MARYVILLE, Mo. -- For the second straight season, Northwest Missouri State put an end to Abilene Christian's football season, this time in dominating fashion with a 35-10 victory at Bearcat Stadium in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
The Bearcats (11-1) advance to the national quarterfinals to play either No. 1 Central Washington or Tarleton State. The Wildcats finish their fourth straight playoff season with a 9-4 record.
Last season the Bearcats ended ACU's perfect season with a 45-36 quarterfinal victory at Shotwell Stadium in Abilene. Two huge fumbles by the Wildcats - one at the Northwest 1-yard line and one on the opening offensive play of the second half - sealed ACU's fate on Saturday.
Northwest took the opening drive and went 77 yards to a score, a drive capped by an 8-yard run by LaRon Council just 2:14 into the game. ACU answered, though, with a 51-yard drive that was capped by a 29-yard field goal by Morgan Lineberry, cutting the lead to 7-3 with 6:38 left in the first quarter.
On Northwest's ensuing drive, the Bearcats moved from their own 17-yard line to the ACU 49 before Blake Bolles was intercepted at the ACU 28-yard line by Josh Wise. ACU then began to move the ball, pushing down to a first-and-goal at the Northwest 3-yard line after a couple of big third-down conversions.
But on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, ACU quarterback Mitchell Gale had the ball knocked out of his hand by Willie Horn and Josh Lorenson recovered at the 1-yard line.
"That was totally my fault," Gale said of one of the game's biggest plays. "I was just trying to do too much and got the ball knocked out of my hands."
After an exchange of punts, Northwest took over at its own 15-yard line with 6:51 left in the first half and holding a precarious 7-3 lead. After a Council run and a Bolles pass to Nick Rhodes moved the ball to the 29, Bolles faked a handoff to Council and kept around left end and went untouched for a 71-yard score that gave the Bearcats the cushion they needed.
ACU had a chance to get on the board again late in the first half, moving from its own 49-yard line after a Fred Thompson interception and driving to the Northwest 23-yard line. But Lineberry missed a 39-yard field goal to keep the halftime score 14-3.
The Wildcats received the opening kickoff, but on the first play, Reggie Brown fumbled and Aldwin Foster-Rettig recovered at the Wildcat 17-yard line. Three plays later, Council scored from 1 yard out to make it 21-3, effectively putting a wrap on the game and the Wildcats' season.
The Bearcats added a couple of more touchdowns before Daryl Richardson scored ACU's only touchdown on a 1-yard run with 2:01 to end the scoring.
Gale finished the game 21 for 33 for 175 yards, while backup Zach Stewart directed the touchdown drive, finishing 3 of 4 for 33 yards. Brown led the Wildcats in rushing with 72 yards on 18 carries.
Northwest's offensive effort was led by receiver Jake Soy, who had seven
catches for 141 yards. Bolles completed 15 of 20 passes for 229 yards and one
touchdown, but did throw three interceptions. Council finished the game with 87
yards rushing and three touchdowns on 17 carries.