By BEN JOHNSON
A winless start to this 2012 season hasn’t affected Kenny Evans’ sense of humor one bit.
“We matched up well against our opponent last week,” Evans quipped. “Finally, an unranked team.”
Where’s the punch line, you ask?
Well, the side-splitter refers to the fact that NSU didn’t play anyone at all. The RiverHawks were idle while gearing up for the final four games of the campaign.
This week, it’s back to action against Central Missouri — a team ranked in the recent D2football.com poll and receiving votes in the coaches’ poll.
“Now we’re back to more ranked teams,” said Evans, whose club has played five of its first six games against either ranked teams or teams receiving votes in the polls.
The Mules (5-2, 5-2 MIAA) will enter Doc Wadley Stadium on Saturday with quarterback Colter Smith coming off his best game of 2012. The 6-foot-5 signal caller abused the Central Oklahoma defense for 329 passing yards and 74 rushing yards in a 47-17 victory.
“He’s a great thrower and runner,” Evans said of Smith, a transfer from Snow Junior College (Utah). “He’s able to find open receivers.
“He’s a good quarterback and we’ve faced one every week.”
To NSU’s advantage was Mother Nature throwing a wrench in Central Missouri’s schedule last weekend. While the Mules did beat UCO, it took two days to complete the game after the contest was concluded on Sunday after the game was postponed due to rain and lightning on Saturday.
However, Evans said that could work to Central Missouri’s advantage.
“When you play well during a game like that,” Evans said, “it might actually help you.”
Central Missouri is also coming down the home stretch of the regular season, with three games left to improve its standing in the MIAA — which could lead to a playoff spot.
“They still have a chance to get into the national playoffs or a bowl game,” Evans said of the Mules, who played in the Kanza Bowl last season, “so they’re going to be motivated.”
Working in NSU’s favor is Central Missouri’s 1-2 mark on the road this season. However, two of those losses occurred at No. 18 Missouri Western and No. 1 Pittsburg State.
NSU will also be well rested.
“Some guys that were banged and bruised up,” Evans said. “But we should be back to full speed now.”
For the second straight game, the RiverHawks (0-6, 0-6) are expected to deploy a two-quarterback look. Dallas McCutcheon played against Missouri Western and is likely to spell Johnny Deaton at times this week.
“We’ll likely stick with the same plan,” Evans said. “(Third-string quarterback) Thor Long may also get a series, as well.”
Central Missouri at Northeastern State
Where: Doc Wadley Stadium.
Radio: Game will air live on KTLQ, AM-1350 and on www.goriverhawksgo.com.
Nicknames: Northeastern State RiverHawks; Central Missouri Mules.
Coaches: NSU (Kenny Evans, 16-35, fifth season); Central Missouri (Jim Svoboda, 24-9, third season).
Records: NSU 0-6 (0-6 MIAA); Central Missouri 5-2 (5-2).
Rankings: NSU is not ranked; Central Missouri is not ranked in the Division II coaches’ poll, and No. 21 in the D2football.com poll.
Series record: NSU leads, 7-0.
Last week: NSU was idle; Central Missouri beat Central Oklahoma, 47-17.
Last meeting: In 1986, NSU beat Central Missouri, 42-22.
News to know: NSU hasn’t started a season 0-7 since 2008. ... These two schools first met in 1962, with NSU winning 7-0. ... The Mules played in the Kanza Bowl last season. ... Central Missouri is 12-5 on the road under Svoboda.
Players to watch
NSU: Langston Jones (LB), Dallas McCutcheon (QB).
— Jones leads the MIAA in tackles with 64. His teammate, Victor Johnson, is only three tackles behind.
— While Johnny Deaton still remains NSU’s starting quarterback, look for McCutcheon to see more on the field after providing an offensive spark against Missouri Western on Oct. 6. Against the Griffons, McCutcheon completed 5 of 7 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 44 yards on seven carries.
Central Missouri: Colter Smith (QB).
— The 6-foot-5, 240-pound junior quarterback is the reigning Offensive Player of the Week in the MIAA after torching Central Oklahoma for 329 yards and three touchdowns on 21 of 35 passing. He also added 74 rushing yards on 12 carries.
Looking ahead: NSU will play at Southwest Baptist on Oct. 27, while Central Missouri will return home to host Nebraska-Kearney.