(MARYVILLE, Mo.) Division II football is set for a heavyweight bout in Maryville on Saturday.
Both Missouri Western and Northwest are 9-1 and are ranked in the top 10 in the D2Football.com Poll.
The Bearcats come in on an 8-game winning streak, and a lot of the credit goes to the rejuvenated offensive line.
After a 31-21 week two loss at Central Missouri, Northwest Missouri State turned a corner.
The Bearcats have rattled off eight consecutive wins since the outing in Warrensburg.
Now Northwest is looking like the team Rod Williams knew they could be the entire season.
"I feel like this is the team we've had all year," Williams said. "It just took time for us to gel."
The 'Cats combine for less than 200 yards rushing in the first two weeks of the season, and quarterback Trevor Adams threw five interceptions during those two contests.
Since week three the offensive line has solidified allowing the stable of backs to rush for more than 250 yards per contest, and Adams is thriving with time in the pocket boosting his quarterback rating above 118 during the eight game win streak.
"We stumbled a little bit early in the season, I don't think we played great as an o-line and just to see them come on, it's a sign of our leaders at the group, and it's a sign of their work ethic," head coach Adam Dorrel said.
Williams, a senior on the Bearcats offensive line, says that work ethic showed before the season began as players tried to win a starting spot.
"Through Fall camp, guys competing for the open spots that we had, kind of putting their names on spots," Williams said, "from there, even through week 2 of the season with the loss to UCM and how we played as a collective unit, every week you can just see steady improvement."
Northwest is showing the improvement on offense scoring 48 or more points in five of the eight games during the streak, and even cracked 70 against Central Oklahoma.
For the guys up front, it is their way of proving doubters wrong.
"We've kind of got a chip on our shoulder because everyone's talking about, you know, we're not physical, we can't run the ball, and we kind of took that to heart," Williams said.
"It's not the most talented group we've ever had, but I love those guys," Dorrel said. "They're tough kids. They play hard, and they've gotten better each week."
It also helps having a pair of All-MIAA backs to run behind them.
James Franklin and Jordan Simmons are each averaging over five yards per carry, and have combine for 28 all-purpose touchdowns.
"They make us look good," Williams said. "They do their job so well that it almost becomes easier for us to do our thing because you know if you get your block they're going to do the rest."
"I give credit to the o-line every game," Simmons said. "I feel like they go out their and play their butts off every game, and me and Franklin see them working hard and we just try to contribute as much as we can on the ground."
Now going into the biggest game of the season with the MIAA title on the line against Missouri Western Saturday, Northwest is confident that they have a great chance to win if the line continues to play at a high level.
"We just have to come out and play our ball," Williams said. "Really, if we come out and play the brand of football that we play, I don't care who you line up across from us, they're a phenomenal defense and do great things, but I feel like it'll be a great game if we play the football that we've played the last 4-5 weeks."
The Bearcats will have their hands full with the Griffon defensive line.
David Bass leads the MIAA in sacks at 9.5, and Ben Pister leads the conference in tackles for loss with 17.5.
Kickoff Saturday in Maryville between Western and Northwest is 2:30pm.
The game will be televised on MIAA TV.