FLORENCE, Ala. — Collin Bevins and the rest of the Northwest Missouri State University football team closed out the era of Florence, Ala., as host of the Division II championship game in impressive fashion Saturday afternoon.
Bevins, defensive tackle from Creston, became the second former Panther to play on a Bearcat championship squad as Northwest beat Lenoir-Rhyne 43-28 at Braly Memorial Stadium.
It’s the fourth Bearcat title in eight championship game appearances. Creston native Dane Wardenburg, now an offensive line coach at Wisconsin-Stout, was an offensive tackle on the 2009 Bearcat championship team. He later served as a graduate assistant coach at Northwest.
Bevins, transfer from Iowa State University, said Saturday’s championship — despite yet another injury setback — was what he dreamed about when he decided to continue his football career in Maryville.
“It was awesome,” Bevins said. “The big thing in deciding when I left (Iowa State) was that Northwest Missouri State had a tradition of winning, and I wanted to be a part of that. Afterward, our whole crowd was down on the field. We had the trophy on the field with us. It was a neat experience.”
Bevins had battled through a variety of injuries during the perfect 15-0 season since an elbow sprain during a preseason scrimmage. He was slowed by a knee injury, a foot injury and more recently, an ankle sprain that flared up against Saturday. He limped off the field during the first quarter, but came back and finished with two solo tackles.
“I sprained my left ankle again, but I got it taped up and got back in,” said Bevins, who moved inside to defensive tackle from defensive end after a teammate’s injury five weeks into the season.
Former Panther opponents of Bevins joined him on the Bearcat defensive unit. Bryant Hummel of Clarinda was a starting defensive tackle, and former Lewis Central D.J. Gnader was middle linebacker.
“This is just a great feeling,” Gnader said after Saturday’s game. “I got to experience it in 2009. I watched them win a national championship. Ever since that moment, I knew this is where I wanted to be.”
This fourth title, which came on a 70-degree afternoon in northern Alabama, was a tribute to the 12 seniors on the team. The team’s white uniforms had the word “Family” in red on the back of the jersey.
The red ink and word “family” was in memory of Northwest former head coach and defensive coordinator Scott Bostwick, who died of a heart attack six months into his head coaching career in 2011.
Bevins said the chemistry of this year’s team reminded him of a family, with constant mutual support throughout the 15-game march to a championship.
“Family has been our mantra all season,” said head coach Adam Dorrel. “We thought instead of their individual name, we would put that on the back and thought it would be pretty cool.”
The defense created two turnovers that led to touchdowns in taking a 17-0 lead on the triple-option oriented Bears. Northwest led 22-7 at halftime.
“For us inside guys, we were just focused on tackling the football,” Bevins said. “It wears on you, though. I think they had 56 running plays and six passes.”
It was the 13th double-digit victory of the season for the Bearcats. They won their four playoff games by an average of 22.8 points.
The game was the conclusion of 28 years for the title game in Florence. The championship game moves to Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.
There are other Creston connections as the Bearcats make another run toward a championship closer to home next season. Freshman defensive end Keaton Hulett of Creston redshirted this year, and Adam Bochart is a freshman drummer in the Bearcat marching band that performed in Florence last weekend.
“Yeah, hopefully next year we can do it again,” Bevins said. “We’ll probably be just as good next year. We just need to have a great off-season. We’ll set our goals the first week back from winter break, and then preach on them during our workouts.”
(Northwest Missouri State University Athletic Department contributed to this story.)