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For ACU, road to longer season goes through Northwest again
Abilene Christian has become one of the better football programs in Division II — reaching the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, including two straight trips to the second round.
Now, the Wildcats have a chance to knock off one of the country’s best Division II football programs in Northwest Missouri State University when it really matters — in the playoffs. That’s something ACU failed to do last season in its quest to win its first NCAA football title — or any national title since winning the NAIA crown in 1977.
And if ACU is to finally win that title and join that elite status like Northwest Missouri State or Grand Valley State, then they’ll have to finally beat one of those teams to get there.
“For us to turn that corner, sooner or later you’ve got to go through them,” ACU coach Chris Thomsen said. “That’s where we are again two years in a row. That’s where we want to be. We just hope to be able to figure it out.”
ACU preview: Wildcats face Northwest hurdle again
What’s riding on this game: Winner advances to play Tarleton State-Central Washington winner in third round of NCAA Division II playoffs on Nov. 28. If ACU wins, the Wildcats would play at either Tarleton State or Central Washington. If Northwest wins, then it would play at Central Washington or host Tarleton State.
Central Washington goes on the defensive this year
This season, the No. 1-ranked Wildcats have put more focus on stopping other teams than outscoring them.
Walking off the field a year ago after a 49-42 loss to West Texas A&M in the first round of the Division II playoffs, Central Washington coach Blaine Bennett knew the Wildcats needed a dramatic makeover.
When Central's record-breaking offense couldn't score enough points to mask its defensive flaws, Bennett, the former quarterback coach who groomed Kyle Orton at Purdue, became intent on forging a championship-caliber defense.
"Everybody wants to talk about the offensive player of the year and [former CWU quarterback] Mike Reilly breaking all of Jon Kitna's records and Johnny Spevak catching 20 touchdowns and 14,000 yards and 95 catches, but the bottom line is defense wins championships," Bennett said. "Certainly you have to have a good offense and you have to have very good special teams, but defense wins championships.
"If you can keep the game close, your offense is always taking the field with a chance to win. We knew we were close, but we had to make some changes."