MARYVILLE, Mo. (AP) As Ferris State's team left the field after Northwest Missouri State's 35-20 victory Saturday, Bearcats fans rushed the field to join team members in tearing down the goalposts.
Following school tradition, the goalposts made it out of the stadium, down the street and out of the line of sight. For the Bearcats, the ''purging of the posts'' means they earned another berth to play for the national championship.
''It's hard not to get emotional when you talk about our team tonight and their performance,'' coach Adam Dorrel. ''I thought it was one of the gutsiest performances in Bearcat history. I've been a part of a lot of big games here. I don't really know if I've seen a team grind out a victory against a better team than we did today.''
Cameron Wilcox rushed for two touchdowns, Jonathan Baker threw for 139 yards and a score and top-seeded and defending champion Northwest Missouri State defeated Ferris State of Michigan to reach the NCAA Division II title game for the third time in four years.
The Bearcats will defend their title against No. 3 North Alabama (11-1) at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas, on Dec. 17.
''It's very gratifying (to defend the title),'' Dorrel said. ''Especially winning the game like we just did. It's a neat deal.''
Saturday's game was Northwest Missouri State's closest this season. Prior to Saturday's contest, the Bearcats had won every game by at least 21 points.
Leading 28-20, Northwest Missouri State (14-0) running back Phil Jackson darted into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown run to virtually seal the outcome with just under five minutes remaining.
The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, the Bulldogs scoring on Davontae Harrington's 10-yard sweep to get within a point before the Bearcats replied on Wilcox's 1-yard run with four seconds left in the quarter.
Northwest Missouri State scored the only points of the first quarter on a 4-yard run by Randy Schmidt.
But the Bearcats lost fumbles on consecutive possessions, allowing Ferris State to take a 13-7 lead early in the second quarter on a 3-yard touchdown run by Trevor Bermingham and Bermingham's 4-yard pass to Kyle Thompson. Northwest Missouri State hadn't trailed in a game since Oct. 15 against Northeastern Missouri State.
''Talk about no panic,'' Northwest Missouri State linebacker Jacob Vollstedt said. ''There were two big plays, two unfortunate things that happened that led to those scores. We weren't in any trouble. Our offense always bounces back. . Obviously, we're not down very often but we gained our composure, bounced back and made some plays.''
The Bearcats struck back on Baker's 19-yard pass to Shane Williams and a 2-yard run by Wilcox to go into the half leading 21-13.
Northwest Missouri State has won 29 straight games, marking the longest active win streak in all of NCAA football.
Northwest Missouri State starting wide receiver George Sehl left the game early after getting roughed up in the first quarter. ... Early in the second quarter, Bearcats second-string cornerback Marcus Jones was carried off the field due to an apparent leg injury. ... With less than two minutes remaining in the game, starting defensive end Collin Bevins took a hard hit and needed training staff to assist him off the field. ... Bearcats starting quarterback Kyle Zimmerman was also injured in the game.
Northwest Missouri State head coach Adam Dorrel did not have injury updates immediately after the game.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Northwest Missouri State's head coach Adam Dorrel's great-grandfather was a fullback on the first Bearcats football team back in 1908. Known then as the ''Fifth District Normal School,'' the team posted a record of 3-2-1. Dorrel's grandfather and great uncle also played for the school in the 1940s