When the 2012 NCAA Division II football season began, 158 teams took their shot at the national championship. Only 24 of those teams are left, and one of those is the Harding Bisons, who will make their first NCAA postseason appearance in football Saturday at 12 p.m., at Northwest Missouri State in Maryville, Mo.
The game will air live on KVHU 95.3-FM in Searcy with Billy Morgan and Jerry Mote on the call. A live audio link will be available on HardingSports.com, and live video and statistics links will be provided courtesy of the Northwest Missouri State sports information office.
Harding (9-1) has had its best regular season in 40 years and enters the game ranked 12th in the AFCA Division II Coaches Poll and as the No. 5 seed in the Super Region 3 bracket. Key to the Bisons' success this season has been their play on the road, where Harding is 6-0.
Northwest Missouri, the No. 4 seed in the Super Region 3 bracket, is one of the most storied football programs in Division II. The 9-2 Bearcats, members of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, have played in seven national championship games, winning in 1998, 1999 and 2009. This is Northwest Missouri's 17th NCAA playoff appearance.
Saturday's game will be the first meeting between the schools in football, and the contest could be a defensive struggle. Both teams are ranked in the top six in Division II in scoring defense.
Harding's triple-option offense, led by senior quarterback Kelvin Martin, enters the game ranked fifth in Division II with 322.2 rushing yards per game. Sophomore fullback Romo Westbrook, a 1st Team All-Great American Conference selection, leads the rushing attack with 649 yards and five touchdowns. Martin is next with 613 yards and 10 touchdowns. Harding's ground game has found the end zone 34 times this season.
Northwest Missouri's defense is ranked 29th nationally against the run, allowing 117.0 yards per game.
Harding does not pass often, but when it does, the target is usually sophomore wide receiver and 2nd Team All-GAC honoree Donatella Luckett. He has 26 of Harding's 42 receptions for 454 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Bearcat defense is also 29th nationally against the pass, ranks 18th in total defense, and third in scoring defense, allowing just 12.9 points per game.
Northwest Missouri also has Division II's sixth-highest scoring offense. The Bearcats are averaging 43.2 points, while the sixth-ranked Bison defense allows just 15.5 points per game.
Northwest Missouri employs a balanced, pro-style offense. Junior James Franklin leads the rushing attack with 723 yards and 12 touchdowns. Junior quarterback Trevor Adams has passed for 2,134 yards and 18 touchdowns, and dual-threat running back Jordan Simmons has rushed for 450 yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 50 passes for 474 yards and five more touchdowns.
The Bearcats will have to account for Harding's top two defensive players--defensive ends Josh Aldridge and Ty Powell. The duo has combined for 28.0 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks this season.
The winner of the Harding-Northwest Missouri State game will meet Super Region 3's No. 1 seed Minnesota State Mankato next Saturday in Mankato, Minn.