By BEN JOHNSON
Glancing through statistics of Southwest Baptist — Northeastern State’s opponent this week — could very well lull you to sleep. The Bearcats have totals that don’t exactly jump off the page, despite playing in eight games already.
But don’t be fooled, says NSU head coach Kenny Evans.
“The thing that jumps out is their team speed,” Evans said of watching Southwest Baptist (1-7, 1-7 MIAA on film). “That might be the last thing people might think, but at linebacker and in the secondary, they might have more team speed than anyone we’ve faced.”
The two main focal points of the Bearcats’ speedy defense are linebackers, Jameson Manuma and Shaquille Shedd. The duo has combined for 145 tackles, nine tackles for loss, five sacks, two interceptions, three pass break-ups, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Not too shabby.
NSU, though, counters with linebacker, Langston Jones, and free safety, Victor Johnson, while Southwest Baptist is on offense. And it’s an offensive unit lacking any substance, in terms of recorded statistics.
The Bearcats’ leading rusher this season, Robert McWright, has collected only 278 yards and two touchdowns on 65 carries. In the passing game, Dan Connors leads Southwest Baptist with a mere 1,133 yards and seven touchdowns on 115 of 207 (55.6 percent) passing.
Evans said the Bearcats like to try and hit for big plays, so the RiverHawks will try to keep everything in front of them while on defense.
“We have to be sound in everything we’re doing,” Evans said. “The biggest thing for us is not to give up a big play. They’re going to try and chuck it past us, and that’s going to be a key to the game.”
Much like the Bearcats, NSU sports only one victory in the win column this season. But unlike Southwest Baptist, the RiverHawks are attempting to put together a winning streak after knocking off Central Missouri, 24-23, last week.
“Just like we’ve said, we want to close out the season 4-0,” said Evans, whose team lost its first six games of the season to five ranked or receiving-votes (in the polls) teams. “(Southwest Baptist) is an athletic football team, and we need to be focused on what we’re doing.”
In winning its first-ever MIAA game, NSU rallied from down 23-7 at halftime. The RiverHawks got a defensive score in the third quarter (on Cayle Shambaugh’s fumble recovery in the end zone) before Drew Patton connected on a field goal early in the fourth quarter to set up Joel Rockmore’s go-ahead, 19-yard touchdown run with 1:54 left. As a team, the RiverHawks posted 400 yards of offense while limiting Central Missouri to 250 yards of offense (most of which came in the first half).
“To me, this team has played well in six of seven games,” Evans said of his own club. “The wins were going to happen at some point.”
Evans added that at no point did the RiverHawks’ coaching staff stress or worry about wins coming its way.
The win over Central Missouri “we more of a weight lifted off some of the players, because we’re so young,” Evans said. “We’re going to finish as a good football team, and hopefully that’ll springboard us into good things next year.”
NSU football notebook: Sherman, surpasses yardage milestone
Just imagine if Jermaine Sherman hadn’t played along side Trey McVay. Sherman’s career numbers could be staggering.
However, McVay left as the school’s record holder in many pass-receiving categories.
Sherman, though, is still in Tahlequah and leading Northeastern State in the passing game this season.
The 6-foot-3, 187-pound wide receiver leads the RiverHawks in receptions (39), receiving yardage (513) and receiving touchdowns (four). And in NSU’s win over Central Missouri last Saturday, Sherman became just the fourth player to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark since NSU joined the Division II ranks in 1998.
“In today’s offense, you’re not just throwing to one guy all the time,” Northeastern State head coach Kenny Evans said. “(Jermaine) has been a steady player for us the last two years.”
Sherman also came up with a big grab against Central Missouri in the RiverHawks’ first win of the season, catching a 64-yard pass on fourth-and-10 to prolong NSU’s final scoring drive to go ahead for good.
Much like Sherman, NSU running back Joel Rockmore went past the 1,000-yard mark against Central Missouri.
Rockmore ran for 121 yards and a go-ahead, 19-yard score against the Mules.
By surpassing the yardage mark, Rockmore became the fifth NSU player to rush for 1,000-plus yards since NSU started competing at the Division II level.
“At the start of the season, Rock’ wasn’t cleared because of a medical condition,” Evans said. “But once he was cleared, we felt good about the three backs we had, and in this league you have to have more than one that can play.”
In six games this season, Rockmore, a sophomore, has rushed for 603 yards and six touchdowns on 100 carries.
“Over the next three games and the two years to follow, I know we’re going to see some great things from Rock’,” Evans said. “That’s also a credit to the people around him.”
Northeastern State will play in Bolivar, Mo., against Southwest Baptist. The two MIAA clubs will kick off at 1 p.m. at Plaster Stadium.
NSU enters the game 1-6 overall and in the MIAA, while Southwest Baptist is 1-7 and 1-7.
This will be the third meeting between the two schools.