By David Boyce
MARYVILLE, Mo. — Three more years!
The Fall Classic at Arrowhead will continue through the 2013 season.
Announcement of this wonderful news came Monday afternoon at a press conference at The New Arrowhead Stadium to promote the upcoming ninth Fall Classic at Arrowhead . Kickoff is 2 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s something we think will benefit the entire region and the schools,” said Mark Donovan, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Chiefs.
A year ago the news of a 1-year extension didn’t come until game day. There are no such worries this time because of the diligent work of Northwest, Pittsburg State and the Chiefs.
“It’s great,” said Northwest interim athletic director Mark Clements. “In conversations with Dr. (John) Jasinski and others at the university, there have been a lot of interest in this and whether we are going to continue on.
“I think there are a lot more pros than cons from what it means to us financially and what it means to us in terms of recruiting.
“For the band and cheerleaders it is like a Super Bowl opportunity for them to showcase their ability in front of 20,000 people every year.”
No matter what the circumstances are for both teams, the game simply carries a homecoming, playoff atmosphere and so much more for all involved.
It’s why nearly 20,000 to as many as 25,000 fans show up annually for what has become the crown jewel of regular-season games in the MIAA.
Just two days ago, a crowd of 13,096 showed up for Northwest’s incredible 17-16 win over Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Mo. It was the largest MIAA crowd ever for a home game.
And yet, nearly double that number was at the first Fall Classic at Arrowhead on a warm Thursday evening on Oct. 17, 2002.
“It’s another thrill to be here,” Northwest coach Mel Tjeerdsma said. “It is important to our teams, our kids and our bands. I know our band takes a lot of pride in performing in a NFL venue. It’s New Arrowhead now. We got a little bit of it last year. I know we are excited getting in here this year. It is a great game.
“We have a lot of respect for Pittsburg State and the great tradition they have. They are coming off a big win Saturday. We are looking forward to a real challenge.”
On paper, Northwest is the clear favorite. The Bearcats are 8-1 overall and 8-0 in the MIAA. They are looking for their fifth straight out-right conference title.
Meanwhile, Pittsburg State is having an uncharacteristic mediocre season. The Gorillas are 5-5 overall and 3-5 in the MIAA.
“I’m in awe that we have this opportunity to play in this game,” Pittsburg State first-year coach Tim Beck said. “It has been a great thing for both universities. Our players look forward to coming up here and playing Northwest Missouri.
“We have the utmost respect for Northwest Missouri and their staff. For them to do what they have done – go to the national championship game five years in a row – I don’t know if some people understand how hard that is to do with 150-plus teams in Division II. To get back to the national championship game that many times is just mind-boggling.”
Beck is one of the reasons this game will have a different flavor. The previous eight times he was here as the offensive coordinator for the Gorillas. In the offseason, he replaced long-time coach Chuck Broyles.
Beck figures it will still be the same for him. Before the game he expects to joke with Northwest defensive coordinator Scott Bostwick.
“He always says the same thing and I will probably say the same things to him,” Beck said. “We have a lot of respect for each other’s programs.
“I don’t know if it will feel a lot different other than the fact we are 5-5 this year and they are rolling once again. We have a big challenge on our hands.”
The other change is completely off the field. Jim Johnson is the new athletic director for Pittsburg State. The last couple of years he was a neutral observer as the commissioner for the MIAA.
And the new commissioner, Bob Boerigter, was the athletic director at Northwest and was the man who worked hard to bring this game to Arrowhead. Now he has to be a neutral observer.
“It’s going to be different to wear a non-neutral color and cheer for one sideline,” Johnson said. “But this is a great thing not only for Pitt and Northwest, but for the league and Kansas City.
“It will feel a little different. Dr. Bob and I have joke about it. I don’t think either one of us a year ago knew we would both be here, but in different positions. It’s fun. In college athletics these things can happen. I will have a little more at stake.”
For Northwest, the game is about continuing its 45-game conference winning streak, winning a conference title and placing itself in the best position possible for the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Tjeerdsma said this game is coming at the right time given the emotional win just two days ago that still has Bearcat nation buzzing.
“I’m glad we are playing in this venue,” Tjeerdsma said. “I think that is something that really picks you up.
“For the young kids who have been here before but haven’t played in the game, it’s going to be huge for them and for our seniors. They introduce the seniors for both teams. It’s a special time for them.
“This game comes at a perfect time for us because we could have a little let down mentally after that game Saturday. There is no doubt about that.”
The last time Northwest lost a MIAA game was Sept. 29, 2005 to Pittsburg State at the Fall Classic at Arrowhead. The Bearcats haven’t been the same since. They have taken domination to a new level.
“It is just a tribute to coach Tjeerdsma and his staff on how they play every weekend. To win 40-plus games in a row in the MIAA is an unbelievable thing,” Beck said.