Semifinal bound: GV prepares for heavily favored Northwest Missouri State

GVL / Hannah Mico
Heath Parling (12) congratulates runningback Kirk Spencer (27) on his second touchdown of Saturdays game.


GVL / Hannah Mico Heath Parling (12) congratulates runningback Kirk Spencer (27) on his second touchdown of Saturday’s game.

Bryce Derouin

Matt Mitchell and Adam Dorrel have faced off against each other on opposite sidelines before.

In 2009, Mitchell was the defensive coordinator for the Grand Valley State University football team, while Dorrel was the offensive coordinator for Northwest Missouri State University.

The two teams met in the Division II national championship in that year, and on Saturday, they’ll meet again, but this time, as head coaches of their respected programs.

For the fifth time ever, GVSU (12-2) and Northwest Missouri State (13-0) will square off, with a trip to the national championship on the line.

“I think you could make an argument from the past 15 years, these are kind of the top two Division II programs over that span of time,” Mitchell said. “To have a chance to match up and play again is pretty cool.”

GVSU won the first two meetings, defeating Northwest Missouri State in the 2005 (21-17) and 2006 (17-14) national championship games. Northwest Missouri State would avenge those losses, by winning a 2007 semifinal contest (34-16) and the 2009 championship game (30-23).

After watching tape on the Bearcats, Mitchell see’s some similarities in the same program he has gone up against in the past.

“You can tell it’s similar to some of the things they were running in 2009, 2007, 2005, and 2006,” Mitchell said. “They’ve stayed true to their offensive system.

“We know the coaching staffs know each other really well. Even though we’re three years removed from having played them, we still know each other from a program standpoint.”

While the two schools have competed in classic games before, the odds makers are labeling Saturday’s game as a mismatch.

As of Wednesday night, GVSU was a 24.5-point underdog.

The Bearcats have scored an average of 46.8 points per game (third highest in the country) and allowed just 16.8 per game on the year (eighth best in the country). They’ve scored at least 50 points in their last three games, including a 59-21 drubbing last week over St. Cloud State University.

“There’s a reason why they’re No. 1 in the region,” Mitchell said. “Their defense is the strength of their team. They’re athletic.”

After allowing 24 points the first two weeks of the season, the Bearcat defense did not yield more than 21 points in a single game. Just last week, they only surrendered three first downs in the first half against St. Cloud State.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt, any question, that they’re the best defense we faced all season,” junior GVSU quarterback Heath Parling said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge for our offense, but something we’re looking forward to.”

Running the ball has always been a consistent priority for GVSU during the 2013 campaign, but against Northwest Missouri State, moving the ball through the air will be just as critical, if not, more important.

“They play a lot of man coverage and put people right up in your face, and they really force you to make some plays under duress, and that’s hard to do,” Mitchell said. “If we can’t throw and catch, and win in the passing game, it’s going to be a difficult day.”

Northwest Missouri State utilizes a two-quarterback system—sometimes both on the field at the same time—in their offense. It’s been senior quarterback Trevor Adams, or sophomore quarterback Brady Bolles who have been at the helm of the Bearcat offense. But Northwest Missouri State could be without Bolles on Saturday, who suffered an injury last week and his status is currently up in the air for the semifinal matchup.

“It’s difficult,” Mitchell said about preparing for two quarterbacks. “I think especially since we’re sitting here as a coaching staff and not sure if one’s going to play. If we knew he was going to play, we’d probably have to have a couple different game plans in. One for when one guy’s in, and one for the other.”

Up to this point, Adams has completed 73 percent of his passes for 2,504 yards passing, 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. Bolles converted 67.5 percent of his passes for 1,066 yards passing and seven touchdowns. Bolles also is a threat with his legs, as he has accumulated 503 yards rushing on 117 attempts, and scored 10 rushing touchdowns.

On the ground, it’s been running back by committee for Northwest Missouri State. Senior Billy Creason leads the team with 13 touchdowns rushing, but junior Robert Burton leads all rushers with 769 yards rushing. Also, add in redshirt freshman Phil Jackson, who is coming off a four-touchdown performance against St. Cloud State.

“They’re like Grand Valley’s offense from a standpoint that they run a lot of different formations, a lot of different things,” Mitchell said. “They have a zone running game and they throw play-action passes off of it. It’s a championship level program and you can just tell on tape that they got that culture that they’re used to winning.”

The last time GVSU played on a national stage, the current seniors were redshirted in their first year as freshman. Despite not playing, they were able to practice and see firsthand what it takes for a team to reach a national title game, which was in 2009 against Northwest Missouri State.

“Last time we got to this point, was our true freshman year and we weren’t playing,” senior GVSU cornerback Reggie Williams said. “We were down there with the scouts, running the scouts, and since then, we haven’t been there. Everybody’s excited to get to this point. This was one of our goals to be playing at this point of the season, and we just want to keep going.”

The game is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN3. Otherwise, you can follow @GVLSports for live updates on the game.