(NCAA.com) MARYVILLE, Mo. -- All through the season, Northwest Missouri State offensive players talked about the importance of the first drive in the second half.
The most important drive of the third quarter for the Bearcats so far this season occurred on a sunny Saturday afternoon in front of 4,514 fans at Bearcat Stadium in the second round of the Division II playoffs against Minnesota-Duluth.
Northwest held a 10-point lead when it received the kickoff. The Bearcats went 70 yards in six plays and scored on an 18-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trevor Adams to wide receiver Reuben Thomas. Thomas finished with 154 yards on eight receptions.
â€śThat was big,â€ť Adams said. â€śIt solidified our lead. But you have to give it to our defense. They played well all game long. It was a good team win for us.â€ť
The Bearcats wound up scoring three touchdowns in the third quarter on the way to a 45-21 victory.
Northwest, 12-0, advances to the quarterfinals and will play at home next Saturday against St. Cloud State. The Bearcats also avenged a 2010 loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the semifinals.
â€śWe remember,â€ť Northwest linebacker Eric Reimer said. â€śThat conference has taken it to us the last few years. Last year Mankato beat us. We wanted to come out here and play a good game.â€ť
When Northwest took a 17-0 lead, Minnesota-Duluth needed to do something it was only able to accomplish once in the first half and that was to put together a drive.
The Bearcats stuffed the Bulldogs again and forced a punt.
Adams, who started slowly, was hitting his receivers between the numbers in the third quarter. He did it in impressive fashion in the next drive that once again started at the 30.
On this occasion, the Bearcats needed just three plays to go 70 yards. The 38-second drive was capped on a beautiful 50-yard spiral to wide receiver Jason Jozaites. It gave Northwest a 24-0 lead with 9:29 left in the third quarter.
â€śIt was fun,â€ť said Adams, who tossed four touchdowns and completed 16 of 24 passes for 277 yards.
â€śOur offensive line played great. I praise God for the way we were able to come out and play.â€ť
A little later, Adams concluded his third-quarter, touchdown hat trick with a 3-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Clint Utter for a 31-0 lead.
â€śWe finally felt comfortable,â€ť said Utter, who caught two touchdown passes. â€śWe had weird little things that kept happening in the first half. We were shooting ourselves in the foot. Once we calmed down and found that rhythm we had during the season, from then on it was normal.â€ť
The Bulldogs scored 14 points in the first 3 minutes of the fourth quarter, but they were too far behind to erase a 31-point deficit. But they made the game a bit too interesting when they scored a touchdown with 6:32 left, making it 31-21.
â€śOur defense was huge,â€ť Utter said. â€śThey kept us in the game. Duluthâ€™s defense was doing it, too.
â€śOur defense played out of their minds. They came out physical and once we started scoring, it helped them out.â€ť
The brick-wall defense by Northwest gave the offense most of the first half to get on track. And when the Bearcats started rolling with the ball, they scored quick.
Northwest scored 10 points in the final 2:11 left in the second quarter and went into halftime with a 10-0 lead.
On defense, Northwest did an amazing job keeping the Bulldogs off the scoreboard.
Late in the first quarter, after Hunter Malberg picked off his second pass, Minnesota-Duluth had the ball at the Northwestâ€™s 14. Three plays later, the Bulldogs were still on the 14 and had to settle for a 32-yard field-goal attempt.
â€śThat was huge. It kept us in the game,â€ť Reimer said. â€śThey score there and that is a big turning point in the game.â€ť
The Bulldogs missed and that planted a seed for a decision late in the second quarter. Defense by both teams dominated the first quarter. Each team mustered just one first down in the opening quarter.
Midway through the second quarter, the Bulldogs grabbed the momentum when they completed a 24-yard pass on a fake punt from their 20.
Minnesota-Duluth took advantage of a somewhat dazed Northwest team and marched to Northwest 3 and had first-and-goal. They managed just 1 yard in the next three plays.
Instead of settling for a field goal that was the length of an extra point, the Bulldogs went for it and got a yard, leaving them 2 yards short of the end zone.
â€śThat was awesome,â€ť Reimer said. â€śIt kept the momentum on our side. It helped our offense, giving them more possessions. We were playing as a unit. It was a lot of fun.â€ť
Northwest started at its 2. Backup quarterback Brady Bolles made his first appearance and on the first play, he ran for 26 yards. Bollesâ€™ run loosened up the passing game. The Bearcats drove to the 5 and on fourth-and-goal, they decided to kick a 25-yard field goal, which Simon Mathiesen made with 2:11 left in the second quarter.
â€śOur defense was playing great all game,â€ť Bolles said. â€śWe were putting them on a short porch and they kept getting stops. We knew the defense was going to keep rolling. We needed to get our game going. We got a field goal and kept going.â€ť
The Bearcats went back to what they do best and stopped Minnesota-Duluth in three plays and forced a punt.
A good return plus a personal foul penalty put the ball on the Bulldogsâ€™ 35. Adams returned to quarterback and it took him three plays to put the ball in the end zone. The lone touchdown in the first half was an 11-yard strike to Utter with 42 seconds left until halftime.
â€śThe way Brady came in and helped change momentum was huge,â€ť Adams said. â€śOur defense played great the whole game. Brady came in and ran and switched things up.
â€śIt got me going, too. Iâ€™m so glad he came in and did that. From there we were able to do some good things.â€ť