By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
The injury bug has feasted on Missouri Southern’s offensive line during the first half of the season.
However, that unit is as healthy as it’s been all season as the Lions tackle South Dakota School of Mines for homecoming.
“It’s really tough when you are rotating everybody in and everybody is getting injured,” sophomore center Caleb Benner said. “Whenever you think of the offensive line, you think of one big unit. It’s tough whenever you are shuffling in different guards, trying to get everybody healthy. But now that everybody is healthy and Seth Hackney is coming back, we will have all five starters. We will stay healthy and become the team we need to be, run that clock down and get first downs and win the game.”
The Lions are looking to snap a two-game losing streak after last week’s 35-10 loss at Central Missouri.
Missouri Southern did throw its first touchdown pass of the season — a 63-yard strike from Kellen Cox to Landon Zerkel — to highlight a season-best 151 yards through the air.
“We are just an aerial attack now, aren’t we,” Lions coach Daryl Daye said, tongue in cheek. “We just took what was available.”
South Dakota Mines, located in Rapid City with an enrollment of 2,300, is in its transition period from NAIA to NCAA Division II status. The Hardrockers, after an 0-4 start, used a 19-0 fourth quarter to beat Valley City State 39-28 last week.
Quarterback Mike Zanutto has completed 73-of-121 passes for 552 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions. Marshall Davis and Deshaun Scott have 18 and 16 catches, respectively, and average just over eight yards per reception, and Jahmel Rover and Chris Sawdey average almost six yards per carry.
“They are going to be in (shotgun) a bunch,” Daye said. “They are pretty multiple. There’s not much option, but they throw the ball pretty effectively.”
Despite all the injuries up front, the Lions are second in the league and 16th in the country in rushing, averaging 245 yards per game. Their lowest games have come the last two weeks — 205 yards against Southwest Baptist and 206 yards against Central Missouri.
“It makes you feel good about yourself that you can successfully run the football, take that clock away and get first downs,” said Benner, who prepped at Kearney. “You can let your defense rest, and they do not have to be on the field all game long.”
And the linemen’s work doesn’t go unnoticed by their teammates.
“There is nothing better than when you get a running back, quarterback or wide receiver to say that is all on you,” Benner said. “(Linemen) do not get the glory in the paper or in the films ... but when you come back to the huddle, they say it is all on you.”
Freshman quarterback Jay McDowell saw his first extended action last week. The coaching staff pulled a redshirt year because sophomore Kyle Webster is sidelined by an elbow injury sustained in practice almost two weeks ago.
On the Lions’ final series McDowell gained 37 yards on an option keeper right, then found Jawanza Davidson with a 37-yard completion to the Mules 8-yard line. But McDowell lost a fumble on the next play.
“We have to get that second guy ready because this is a tough offense and guys get hurt,” Daye said. “We have to be prepared if that happens. We had the opportunity to get him some reps, and that’s what we did.”