Missouri State football vs. Northern Iowa: Takeaways from another thrilling Bears win

Wyatt D. Wheeler
Springfield News-Leader

Missouri State football all but wrapped up its second-straight FCS Playoff bid with its thrilling 34-27 win over Northern Iowa on Saturday afternoon.

The Bears got the go-ahead score to beat the Panthers when starting quarterback Jason Shelley completed a 55-yard touchdown pass to Naveon Mitchell with 58 seconds to go.

Bobby Petrino has pulled off what some thought would be impossible two seasons into the job. He's turned Missouri State into a winning football program and one that will be respected across the country at the FCS level.

The Bears didn't make their victory over the Panthers easy, but those difficult games have lately been ending in wins for Missouri State.

Here are some takeaways from another great Missouri State football win:

MISSOURI STATE FOOTBALL WIN VS. NORTHERN IOWA

Jason Shelley was doubted and is now historically good

The Missouri State Bears took on the University of Northern Iowa at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.

Missouri State has one of the great players in the football program's history on its roster. He has lifted the Bears' offense and has taken it to a level it hasn't been before. 

Starting quarterback Jason Shelley continued to be phenomenal just days after he was announced as a player on the watchlist for the FCS' offensive player of the year honor.

Shelley completed 22-of-33 passes for 320 yards and a touchdown. He didn't need to run the ball too much but still found himself in the end zone twice.

On Saturday, he set the school's single-season passing record, and he has at least two games remaining to add on. 

The Missouri State Bears took on the University of Northern Iowa at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.

This comes after Utah and Utah State turned him away. At Utah, the program tried to make him a safety but he always believed he was capable of being the quarterback he's turning into.

"It means a lot," Shelley said. "It's something I've been dealing with since high school. I've always been told that I wasn't going to be a quarterback or a college quarterback. I kind of go out there every week, every day at practice to not prove people wrong but to prove myself right.

"I think I can do whatever I put my mind to. I think I'm capable of being a Division I quarterback, NFL quarterback and I just have to go out there and show my talents. I just go out there every day and try to prove myself right and let the rest fall in place."

Missouri State wasn't at its best and it felt in control the entire game

The Missouri State Bears took on the University of Northern Iowa at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.

There wasn't really a moment throughout Saturday afternoon's game when it felt like Northern Iowa was going to come back and win — even when the Panthers tied it up late.

Missouri State continues to excel in late-game situations when it's on the line. Even after decades of the Bears losing in those situations, they have earned the trust late that they're going to be able to pull some of those games off.

While Northern Iowa was a good team, Missouri State was obviously better. The Bears have the advantage with a complete defense and they also have the better quarterback and offensive system to move the ball down the field.

UNI's great defense was no match for the Bears' third-down offense that is among the best in the nation. Multiple times throughout, the Panthers appeared to have the Bears stopped before Shelley bought time with his legs and delivered a pass to an open receiver down the field for the first.

The Missouri State Bears took on the University of Northern Iowa at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.

All of this came when the Bears didn't play their best game. The second half wasn't nearly as good as what we saw them do last week at Southern Illinois. 

A blocked punt late might have created a little uneasiness as UNI went in for the tying score. Giving up a fourth-and-14 that turned into an 18-yard touchdown pass wasn't ideal either.

But as Shelley said, the Bears have been in this position to where it's like "here we go again." That calmness has spread throughout the team to the point where they are confident they can go down and score the game-winning touchdown or field goal — and they did once again.

Montrae Braswell continues to shine

The Missouri State Bears took on the University of Northern Iowa at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.

It's not a surprise that the Bears' lone First Team All-Valley player from a season ago has been coming up with the big-time plays when they're needed.

Defensive back Montrae Braswell continues to impress on a weekly basis. At corner, he's rarely targeted and when he is, he makes the other team pay. He had an interception late in the second quarter when UNI tried cutting into the Bears' lead before halftime.

"I like being tested on," Braswell said. "I get bored throughout the game. I like it when they go at me and I'm tested."

Teams continue to test Braswell's kick returning abilities by kicking it to him. That often results in good field position for the Bears. 

Braswell returned a kick 41 yards in an early drive that led to an MSU field goal. He's returned a kickoff for 30 or more yards in four of Missouri State's games this season which includes a 96-yarder for a touchdown.

What to watch now that the Bears are playoff-bound

The Missouri State Bears took on the University of Northern Iowa at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.

Missouri State will be scoreboard watching next week before its 8 p.m. game at Dixie State. There are still some games that will have major implications on the Bears' seeding and a possible claim to the Missouri Valley Football Conference title.

The Bears will at least finish second in the MVFC with a final 6-2 conference record. If first-place North Dakota State loses to South Dakota, the Bears have a claim of the league and will share it with NDSU, South Dakota and Southern Illinois depending on if it beats Youngstown State.

That could result in the Bears raising a flag and getting new T-shirts, but the bigger games impacting playoff-seeding appear to be taking place elsewhere.

The Missouri State Bears took on the University of Northern Iowa at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.

Missouri State is in a great position to host a playoff game at Plaster Stadium. What hasn't been decided is whether the Bears will host it in the first or second round. 

If MSU beats Dixie State next week, it would be hard to fathom the Bears not hosting a first-round game at the very least. With a little help, the Bears could claim one of eight national seeds that give teams a first-round bye. 

Missouri State received help from numerous teams on Saturday which resulted in a South Dakota State loss and UC Davis losing by 18 to Eastern Washington.

Missouri State could receive help next week with losses from teams that are on the borderline of receiving a national bid. Here are some scenarios that could help the Bears:

  • Southern Illinois — A loss to Youngstown State
  • South Dakota State — A loss to North Dakota
  • Villanova — A loss to Delaware
  • Eastern Washington — A loss at Portland State
  • Sacramento State — A loss at UC Davis
  • Kennesaw State — A loss at Monmouth
  • Montana — A loss at Montana State
  • Southeast Louisiana — A loss to Nicholls
  • East Tennessee State — A loss to Mercer

Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at wwheeler@news-leader.com or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. He's also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.