By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Missouri Southern’s march to the 1993 MIAA championship began with a 20-3 home victory over Pittsburg State on Sept. 18.
It was the Lions’ first victory over the rival Gorillas since 1984, and it was the Gorillas’ first MIAA loss since joining the league in 1989. It also was the Gorillas’ first conference loss in 50 games since a 41-9 CSIC loss to Emporia State in 1985.
And, the Lions’ victory provided perhaps the most memorable play in receiver Rod Smith’s lengthy highlight tape.
From the Pittsburg State 34-yard line in the second quarter, Lions quarterback Matt Cook hit Smith with a screen pass on the left side. Smith followed a wall of blockers as he cut across the field to the right sideline. He outran one defensive back, and then at about the 3-yard line, he leaped over safety Chris Brown — one All-American leaping over another All-American — and landed in the end zone.
“I don’t remember what the play was called. It was one of our screens,” Smith said last week. “I caught it on the left side of the offense and went all the way back underneath and wound up going up the right-hand sideline. Then I was diving and landing like 10 yards in the end zone. It was sweet.
“I’ve gone back and looked at the play several times. I didn’t realize I could dive that far. It was one of those things where I was just trying to make a play and it worked out.”
However, that touchdown was not the first thing that came to Smith’s mind when he was asked about the game.
“All our defense played lights out,” Smith said. “We scored 20 points, but defense was the key. We had played those guys so many times and they’d run up the score on us. This time it was not the track meet they usually would have on us. Those guys on defense played really sound. To only give up three points on that team was awesome.”
The Lion defense exhibited the textbook bend-but-don’t break philosophy. The Gorillas moved inside the MSSU 30-yard line on four of their five first-half possessions but came away with only three points.
The Gorillas turned the ball over on downs at the 25 in the first quarter and at the 24 in the second quarter as linebacker Jason Stahl knocked down a fourth-down pass. The Gorillas also missed a 38-yard field goal after hitting a 29-yarder.
In the second half an interception by Cedric Florence halted one PSU drive, and the Lions stopped PSU on fourth-and-1 from near midfield to set up their final TD — a two-yard run by Albert Bland, who rushed 23 times for 92 yards.
Linebackers Melvin Monet and Ron Burton made 18 and 17 tackles, respectively, against the Gorillas, and freshman end Richard Jordan had nine tackles, one quarterback sack and two more tackles in the backfield.
The Lions’ other touchdown came in a 13-point fourth quarter when Cook found Henry Sims down the middle for a 40-yard strike. The left-handed Cook, rolling to his right, fired a pass to Smith, whose sliding catch gained 18 yards on third-and-11 early in the drive.
Cook completed 8-of-18 passes for 149 yards, and Smith caught five for 85 yards.
The victory was especially gratifying for Cook, who in his second collegiate start was 1-of-21 and threw three interceptions in a 31-3 loss at PSU to end the 1989 season.
After that game, head coach Jon Lantz told Cook he would one day beat the Gorillas, and that victory came in Cook’s senior season.