By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Fresh off its biggest victory of the season, Missouri Southern hoped to treat the home fans with another strong performance against another nationally ranked opponent.
But the combination of Northwest Missouri State’s passing game and mistakes by the Lions produced a 38-14 victory for the No. 5-ranked Bearcats on Saturday afternoon at Fred G. Hughes Stadium.
Bearcats quarterback Trevor Adams completed 25-of-33 passes for 292 yards and one touchdown — a three-yarder to tight end Joel Gannet in the extreme back of the end zone for a 21-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
While that was Adams’ lone TD toss, he completed a 20-yarder to John Hinchey to ignite the Bearcats’ first scoring drive. Adams had four completions totaling 63 yards during an 80-yard march for the second score, one of them a 21-yarder to Bryce Young that was perfectly thrown in the middle of three MSSU defenders. And a 27-yard screen pass set up Todd Adolpf’s 22-yard field goal late in the first half.
“We probably threw it a little more than I would have liked,” Bearcats coach Adam Dorrel said, “but the situation dictated the strategy a little bit. I felt like they were trying to shut down our running game ... we have two pretty good backs. I thought we executed well when we did throw it.”
Adams was sacked two times, once by Brandon Williams early in the second quarter. It was Williams’ 24th career sack, one more than the school record he shared with Kent Shorten.
“It’s nice, but I’d like to get the win,” Williams said. “We have to do a better job of getting pressure on the QB and getting off blocks. We could have executed (better). We missed a lot of tackles, so we have to go back to the drawing board and get better.”
Running back James Franklin led the Bearcats’ ground game with 50 yards on 16 carries and three touchdowns — the last one a three-yarder with 5:32 remaining on a highlight-film flip over the offensive line into the end zone.
The Bearcats (7-1, 6-1 MIAA) finished with 446 yards on 75 plays while the Lions (5-3, 4-3) had 51 plays for 258 yards — both just above their season lows. The Lions also fumbled a season-high six times, and while they recovered all of them, most stalled drives. And the passing game had just one completion in 12 attempts — a five-yarder from backup quarterback Jay McDowell to Landon Zerkel with four minutes left.
“I thought early ... we went back to the second- and third-game follies,” Lions coach Daryl Daye said. “There were turnovers, there were busted execution on assignments. We got penalties, we were behind the chains ... all the things that we cannot do to beat a team like that, we were doing to ourselves.
“There were spots where we moved the ball, and it looked like we were getting it going. We’d get in the red zone, then they stiffened up and shut us down.”
Ne’Ronte Threatt, who gained 56 yards on four carries, raced 30 yards to the Bearcat 30 late in the second quarter, but the Lions turned the ball over on downs at the 29. In the last minute of the half, a 25-yard run by Kellen Cox and 20-yarder by Marcus Hall on a reverse put the Lions at the Bearcat 35, but Travis Manning’s interception at the 19 ended the drive.
“They are a phenomenal team. Their defense is excellent,” Cox said. “They have big guys and they’re fast and they’re smart. ... Our guys on the offensive line did a good job. They made us work hard for it today. Everything we got we earned because they are a great defense. They are the No. 5 team in the country for a reason. They executed today, and we just couldn’t do it.”
Cox’s one-yard touchdown pulled the Lions within 14-7 early in the second quarter. All nine plays in the 58-yard march were on the ground, the longest a 21-yarder by Bryant Venson.
Lions freshman Ken Armant broke a 51-yard touchdown on a pitch around the left side with 2:57 left.
“(Missouri Southern) is a good football team, and I’m proud of our kids,” Dorrel said. “That (offense) is very hard to prepare for in a few days. I was nervous all week ... but the strength of our football team right now is our defense. They’ve played pretty good all year.”
Linebackers Brian Rodgers and Alex Wong made 11 tackles apiece for the Lions, and cornerback Breon Matlock had nine stops.
“We didn’t do what we had to do to win the ball game,” Daye said. “They did, hats off to them. They were the better football team today.”