College football: Bulldogs renew playoff rivalry on road to Northwest Missouri

It is more than 500 miles between Duluth and Maryville, Mo., but the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs have already had their share of classic battles with the Northwest Missouri Bearcats.

Northwest Missouri
LEFT: Northwest Missouri junior defensive end Matt Longacre had 12.5 tackles, 7.5 quarterback sacks and a fumble recovery he returned for 17 yards this season in being named MIAA defensive player of the year. RIGHT: Northwest Missouri senior quarterback Trevor Adams looks for yardage earlier this season. Adams, who has split time behind center this season with sophomore Brady Bolles, threw for 2,015 yards and 21 touchdowns en route to being named MIAA offensive player of the year. Northwest Missouri photos

It is more than 500 miles between Duluth and Maryville, Mo., but the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs have already had their share of classic battles with the Northwest Missouri Bearcats.

The teams are the most successful programs in NCAA Division II football over the past six years, and their storybook rivalry will add another chapter at noon Saturday when the teams clash in the second round of the national playoffs at Bearcat Stadium in Maryville.

"Coaching staffs and programs usually have more history than the actual players do," UMD coach Curt Wiese said. "We don't have many guys on our team who faced Northwestern in 2010, so it's something our guys are looking forward to. It's a perennial power in Division II, so we'll know where we stand as a football program after Saturday's game."

UMD and Northwest Missouri have met three times, all in the playoffs, with the games decided by a combined 15 points. UMD holds a 2-1 edge.

The first meeting was in the first round of the playoffs on Nov. 23, 2002. It was a shootout, with the last team standing, Northwest Missouri, surviving with a 45-41 victory in Maryville. That was the Bulldogs' first NCAA Division II playoff game, and the likes of quarterback Rick Fritz, and brothers Tim and Steve Battaglia, gave the Bearcats' defense all it could handle.


"Northwest has a quality football program," Wiese said. "There is a lot of respect for the way they do things and the way that their kids play."

The second meeting was in the NCAA Division II title game on Dec. 13, 2008, in Florence, Ala., when UMD, led by record-setting quarterback Ted Schlafke, built a 21-0 lead and then held on for a 21-14 victory to secure the Bulldogs' first national championship.

The third meeting was in the national semifinals in Duluth on Dec. 11, 2010, a game that will forever be etched in UMD fans' collective memory as their Ice Bowl. With wind chill temperatures reaching 14 below zero, 3,257 fans braved the elements -- including students with no shirts -- to watch quarterback Chase Vogler scamper 34 yards for a touchdown and into Bulldogs' lore in lifting UMD to a 17-13 victory. The Bulldogs went on to win their second national championship the following week.

The coach of that Northwest team, Mel Tjeerdsma, now serves as the Bearcats' athletic director and is one of the most respected coaches in college football. But even Tjeerdsma, in all his years of football wisdom, didn't quite realize was he was getting into in that 2010 contest in Duluth. The Bearcats were told to bring extra practice balls because when it gets ridiculously cold, on punts and kicks, the inside bladder of the football would occasionally blow out upon landing. Tjeerdsma had never heard of such a thing. The Bulldogs had.

Tjeerdsma's tradition of quality football has carried on with one of his former pupils, Adam Dorrel, who is 32-6 in his third season at his alma mater.

"Each time these teams met, it's been a great game, and I think we'll see the same thing on Saturday," Wiese said. "These are two very comparable football teams, and watching Northwest, one thing that really sticks out about Northwest Missouri is that their kids play hard, and they play hard to the whistle.

The Bearcats have won 25 Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association titles and have made 18 NCAA Division II playoff appearances, including 10 straight, the longest streak in the nation. UMD, meanwhile, has made eighth DII playoff appearances, including sixth straight. The Bulldogs have the nation's best record during that span, going 73-8. Northwest is second at 71-11.

"We're not that familiar with their conference, and it's hard to tell sometimes on film, but based on what we've seen, this is as good as any opponent we've faced in the Northern Sun (Intercollegiate Conference)," Wiese said. "They play hard and are well coaches. This is the most athletic defensive unit we've this season, by far, so it's going to be a challenge. Our guys are looking forward to another good matchup against the MIAA."



UMD took advantage of five interceptions en route to a relatively easy 55-13 home victory over Emporia State in the first round of the playoffs last week.

One Bulldog fan who wasn't overly impressed with Emporia was Duluth Mayor Don Ness, who posted this on Facebook the next day:

"At yesterday's UMD football game, you could tell the difference between UMD and Emporia State during warm-ups. UMD had traditional drills, Emporia spent over 5 min practicing their celebrations (not kidding). Emporia tried to intimidate with throat slashing gestures toward our bench. In the first quarter, their defensive players made it a point to step over our players every time they made a tackle -- it was clear that they were talking trash every chance they got.

But soon it was about talent on the field and the dynamic changed in a hurry. There was nothing fancy about UMD's play -- they just pounded them up front. Poor Emporia, after spending all that time practicing their celebrations during warm ups, had very little chance to use them in a game that UMD ended up winning 52-13.

Here's my favorite stat comparison of the game -- UMD gained 476 yards rushing, Emporia State ran the ball 30 times for a grand total of negative 2 yards (that includes one reverse for 17 yards). Emporia was no slouch team, they came to Duluth with a 10-1 record, they left humbled by a UMD team that dominated every element of the game.

In today's paper our freshman starting QB Drew Bauer had a quote that said it all, 'I prefer to let our play do the talking.' That might be considered old-school in this day and age, but it's exactly why I'm such a fan of this program.

Congrats to Coach Wiese and the team for representing UMD and Duluth so well -- good luck during next week's game in NW Missouri. I'm feeling another championship run in the making!"


No. 5 Minnesota Duluth at No. 2 Northwest Missouri
What: NCAA Division II second-round playoff game
When: noon Saturday
Where: Bearcat Stadium (6,500 capacity, artificial turf)
Records: Northwest Missouri 11-0, UMD 11-1
Forecast: sunny with a high of 47 and 6 mph wind
Radio: KQDS-AM 1490 (105.5 and 106.7 FM on the Iron Range);

Northwest Missouri State University at a glance
Location: Maryville, Mo. (population 11,972)
Established: 1905, as a teachers college
Enrollment: 6,485
Nickname: Bearcats
Colors: green, white
Conference: Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, a 14-member league with teams in Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska
NCAA playoff appearances: 18 (1984, 1989, 1996-2000, 2002, 2004-2013)
National championships: three (1998, 1999, 2009)
National runnerup: four (2005-08)
Famous alum: former Twins third baseman Gary Gaetti

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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