The weather conditions were absolutely perfect Thursday night for the opening game of the 2017 football game season. It looked like it would be a great game. Emporia State came to Maryville ranked fourth in the nation, returning their star quarterback.
It was true Northwest was the two-time defending national champion. It was true they held a 30-game winning streak. But there was room for plenty of doubt. Last year’s national championship team was loaded with seniors, including Kyle Zimmerman, the best quarterback in NCAA Division II.
It’s hard to forget about the loss of a head coach. Rich Wright, a tremendous defensive coordinator, would be in the hot seat of a head coach for the first time. The team had survived the retirement of an icon coach, the death of a popular coach and the defection of a two-time national champion coach. Were the odds just stacked too high for Coach Wright?
By the end of the night, many questions were answered. It was pretty clear that Northwest not only gained a head coach, but kept their outstanding defensive coordinator. Emporia, with their returning quarterback and number four ranking, did not score a point. That almost never happens in offensive-happy NCAA II football.
Lookout Coach Wright. Now the question isn’t can the Bearcats possibly continue to succeed with new players and a new head coach? Now the question becomes will Northwest ever lose again?
It last happened on November 22, 2014. The Bearcats had made the playoffs after winning the national championship in 2013. However, a regular season loss to Pittsburg State forced the team on the road for the playoffs. They traveled to chilly Duluth, Minnesota to play the Bulldogs.
Northwest was the underdog, but after three quarters held a 21 – 6 lead. Kyle Zimmerman was a “Wildcat” quarterback, thought to be a better runner than passer. Rich Wright’s defense had been tough all day, but the offense couldn’t keep them off the field.
Duluth’s offense started to move. Finally, with 26 seconds left in the game, they scored the winning touchdown. Northwest felt the sting of a 25 – 21 post-season loss. That was about 34 months ago. The Bearcats have not lost since. The winning streak is now 31 games. It doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon.
Let’s talk a little about streaks. The longest regular season winning streak by a college football team was NCAA Division III Mt. Union, Ohio. They won 112 regular season games. However, they did have a few post season losses.
In NCAA Division I, the benchmark is 47 wins in a row by the Oklahoma Sooners. The streak began in 1953. Under head coach, Bud Wilkinson, the mighty Big Red looked invincible. That’s the problem with sports; anything can happen.
On Halloween night in 1957, the Nebraska Cornhuskers beat Oklahoma to end the streak. Nebraska didn’t even have a winning record. Two years later, Bill Jennings, the Nebraska coach, would be fired. He would have been fired a year earlier, but he beat Oklahoma in 1958, too.
How can that happen? No one could touch the Sooners. Not Texas in the Red River Rivalry; not Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Game; no one could solve the mystic of the team from Norman, Oklahoma.
I guess everyone has an Achilles heel. Nebraska just must have had the Sooner’s number. How else could you explain the losses? It ended the longest streak in NCAA Division I football history. Just to show you how tough it is to win consecutive games, the second longest streak ended in 1914 and the third longest streak came to an abrupt halt in 1889, when Yale lost for the first time in 37 games.
The rain and sleet was coming in sideways on December 1, 2007. Northwest Missouri State was playing their old nemesis, Grand Valley State, in quarterfinals of the playoffs. Grand Valley State was ranked number one in the nation and carried a 40-game winning streak, the most ever by a NCAA Division II team.
The game was televised, but several thousand hardy fans packed Bearcat Stadium that night. It was close for a while, but it was over by the fourth quarter. Northwest had won 34 -16. That ended the winning streak, the streak Northwest now chases.
Thursday night was the 31st consecutive win for the Bearcats. I’m pretty sure no one was looking ahead to the chance of breaking Grand Valley’s record before Thursday night’s game. After the win over Emporia, it seems not only possible, but probable.
All the conference favorites won Thursday night. Washburn will think they can derail the Bearcat express next week in Topeka. Central Missouri is thinking about being unbeaten when they face Northwest in Arrowhead. Fort Hays will have some confidence after giving Northwest their toughest game a year ago.
This is totally unofficial, so I reserve the right to be wrong. I used the internet to come up with the 40 game winning streak. I hope it’s accurate, just as I hope the following is accurate. However, being a blog, I use the philosophy of Mark Twain when he said, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”
This is the best part of the story and I hope it’s factual. If the Bearcats can avoid losses throughout the season, Grand Valley State’s record would fall in the last regular game of the season. The opponent? That would be Missouri Western and the game would be played in St. Joseph. It does have to end sometime, doesn’t it? Just not that night.