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RBs in spotlight of playoff contest

by Jeff Krupsaw Special to the Democrat -Gazette | November 26, 2021 at 2:26 a.m.
Cole Chancey

Harding University fullback Cole Chancey and Northwest Missouri State tailback Al McKeller are bonded by yards, not styles.

Chancey and McKeller will bring more than 10,000 rushing yards and 125 touchdowns to the field at Harding's First Security Stadium in Searcy on Saturday when their teams meet at 1 p.m. in a second-round matchup in the NCAA Division II football playoffs.

Chancey, the Bisons' tenacious 5-11, 195-pound fullback, is the No. 2 active rusher in Division II with 5,007.

McKeller, the Bearcats' shifty but powerful 5-9 215-pound tailback, is the No. 1 active rusher, just ahead of Chancey with 5,025 yards.

Any comparison of Chancey and McKeller that goes beyond the numbers is a study of contrasts.

Take it from Washburn Coach Craig Schurig, who witnessed Chancey carry the ball 41 times for 176 yards in last week's 30-14 Harding victory in Searcy.

He also had a good seat on Oct. 16 to McKeller's considerable talent in Washburn's 17-16 win over Northwest Missouri State.

"Totally different, "Schurig said "The running back from Northwest gets the ball in the backfield and makes cuts."

McKeller rushed 29 times for 138 yards and 1 touchdown and caught 5 passes for 58 yards in the Bearcats' more traditional attack.

Chancey is the backbone of Harding's triple-option flexbone offense.

"The product of that offense is running dive plays," Schurig said, "and it has its own talent."

Northwest Missouri State Coach Rich Wright said Chancey fills the role of old-school triple-option fullback, the kind he remembers seeing play for Nebraska and Oklahoma in the 1970s.

"He's tougher than a pine knot, Wright said of Chancey, who is from Commerce, Ga.

Wright said McKeller has as much substance as he does style.

"Al's going to get you the tough yards, too, but Al is a threat in a lot of different facets," Wright said. "He can catch the ball out of the backfield. When he gets in open space he can run better than people think.

"He's also a hammer. If you watch much film, he can run you over and run around you. He's been a big part of our offense, obviously."

Harding Coach Paul Simmons is familiar with McKeller's talent, just not in a Northwest Missouri State uniform.

McKeller spent his first three collegiate seasons at the University of Indianapolis, and played against the Bisons in Harding's 27-24 first-round playoff win in 2017.

McKeller rushed 26 times for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns that day in Indianapolis, while Chancey carried 15 times for 63 yards and 1 touchdown.

McKeller's freshman season ended that day, while Chancey's role increased as Harding won three consecutive road games before losing to Texas-Commerce 31-17 in the semifinals.

Chancey has played 7 playoff games to 3 for McKeller, and has outgained Saturday's rival 833-344 and scored 9 touchdowns to McKeller's 4.

McKeller's decision to enter the transfer portal after opting out of Indianapolis' three-game 2021 spring season has not been fully explained.

Wright said the Bearcats normally tread lightly when it comes to acquiring transfers, especially one that doesn't commit to the program until the beginning of fall practice.

Wright said he spoke with Indianapolis Coach Chris Keevers and several others who were familiar with McKeller.

"I felt comfortable doing it, and quite honestly, he's exceeded all of my expectations," Wright said. "And I'm not talking about on the field. It's really more of what kind of person and what kind of a teammate he's been."

Wright said the Northwest Missouri State-Harding matchup is not a showdown between Chancey and McKeller.

"I think it's different animal totally," he said. "Playing against a back is one thing, but what's the cast of characters around you? I think that makes a big difference, and a big reason we've been effective down the stretch."

Harding Coach Paul Simmons echoes the sentiments of Schurig and Wright when talking about Chancey and McKeller, even as he mentioned the fact that they are the two active rushing leaders in Division II.

"They're both powerful," Simmons said. "McKeller? Well, they're just different. Different style of offense, different style of backs. Both really good in their own right."

Just about everybody agrees about that.

Nos. 1-2 in Division II

Northwest Missouri’s Al McKeller and Harding’s Cole Chancey are the two top active rushers in Division II football:



855 CARRIES 933

5,025 RUSHING 5,007

5.9 PER CARRY 5.4





83 CARRIES 178

344 YARDS 833

4.1 PER CARRY 4.7




2017 253 1,347 15

2018 191 961 14

2019 238 1,375 13

2021 251 1,324 24

4 YRS 933 5,007 66



2017 173 1,124 17

2018 228 1,300 12

2019 207 1,134 13

2021 247 1,467 17

4 YRS 855 5,025 59

NOTE McKeller played at the University of Indianapolis from 2017-19 and has caught 42 passes for 389 yards and 1 TD in his career

Al McKeller
Al McKeller

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