-- FLORENCE, Ala. -- Northwest Missouri State running back LaRon Council says he'll never forget the feeling of losing a national championship game. Now, he has something to take the place of that bad memory. Council rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns to lead Northwest Missouri to the NCAA Division II championship with a 30-23 win over Grand Valley State on Saturday. The Bearcats (14-1) won their first title since 1998 and ended a string of four consecutive losses in the national championship game. Council scored twice within the first 18 minutes of the game to stake the Bearcats to a 21-0 lead and then made an 18-yard catch to set up the clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. "I told my teammates I would do all I could not to let them down," Council said, "and make sure we didn't have that feeling I had last year" after the Bearcats lost to Minnesota-Duluth. "I felt we would win the last four years," said junior quarterback Blake Bolles, who rushed for one touchdown and threw for another. "We didn't talk too much about the national championship during the season. Today we willed ourselves to win this game." Northwest Missouri coach Mel Tjeerdsma said his team "came a long way" to win the championship. "We worked so hard for this," he said. "This was our goal." Bolles threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jake Soy on fourth-and-4 with 10 minutes remaining to take the momentum away from Grand Valley, which had gotten within 23-20. Tjeerdsma said Bolles changed plays at the line of scrimmage and threw a perfect pass to Soy on a fade pattern. The Lakers (13-2) scored the first three touchdowns of the second half, but Ryan Jones returned a blocked extra point kick for two points and the Bearcats took a 23-20 lead instead of being tied at 21-all. Grand Valley quarterback Brad Iciek passed for 290 yards and led his team's comeback in the second half with touchdown passes to Andrew Lorman and Ryan Bass. The Lakers got their final chance with 2:59 remaining but could not get beyond their own 44. "Some of the things that happened late in the first half kept us from opening it up, but that's a credit to Grand Valley," said Tjeerdsma, who has coached three Division II national championships to tie former North Alabama coach Bobby Wallace for the most. "I think we played not to lose for a while (in the second half), but you have to give Grand Valley a lot of credit for hanging in there." Grand Valley coach Chuck Martin said the "story of the game for us was the first half. We were struggling and scrambling defensively and couldn't tackle (Council). I knew we had a huge hole to climb out, down 21-0 at the half. We'll be kicking ourselves for a long time looking at the first half." The championship game featured the two teams with the most wins in Division II this decade. The Lakers have won four championships during the decade.
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