By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
It began in Missouri Southern’s football season opener.
Facing fourth down-and-1 in their territory with two minutes left, the Lions elected to go for the victory-clinching first down rather than punt, and they succeeded.
“Scared money don’t make money,” Lions coach Daryl Daye said that night after the 25-20 victory at Central Oklahoma.
Daye, the Lions’ first-year head coach, has continued to resemble a riverboat gambler throughout the season. And most of the time, the gambles have paid dividends for the Lions, especially in last week’s 31-30 victory over then-No. 4 ranked Missouri Western.
The Lions’ first touchdown drive was extended by a fourth-down pass from punter Stewart Quinn to Gatlin Ridgway for a first down.
“We started running that fake about four weeks ago in practice, and it just became available,” Daye said Wednesday afternoon. “Quinn is a former quarterback, so he throws the ball pretty good. If (Ridgway) had been covered, (Quinn) would have punted it.”
Trailing by seven points with 3.9 seconds left in the first half, the Lions had the ball just inside the Missouri Western 3. Daye elected to go for the touchdown rather than the sure field goal, and Ne’Ronte Threatt scored to pull the Lions even at halftime.
“If I would have polled the players on the sideline — kick it or go for it — every single one of them would have said go for it,” Daye said. “The mentality going into the game was to go up there and win, and to go for it at the time was a smart thing to do because it worked. If it didn’t work, I am standing here being a big dummy right now. Ne’Ronte Threatt made an outstanding play and made us look very smart.”
“Absolutely go for it,” quarterback Kellen Cox said. “We were behind Coach all the way, and we had the confidence to punch it in. ... We are there to win, not to settle.
“There is nothing better than having a coach who has confidence in us. He said we are there to win, we’re not there just to play well against a ranked team. We are there to win the game and he will do whatever it takes, whether that is faking a punt or going for it on fourth down.”
Even kicker Dallas Herndon wanted to go for the touchdown rather than the field goal.
“We want the 7 rather than the 3,” he said.
Herndon got his opportunity for a pressure kick after the Lions tied the game with a touchdown with two minutes left. His PAT split the uprights for the decisive point.
“Ever since I started kicking, I’ve wanted that opportunity,” Herndon said. “In high school (at Harrisonville) I never got it, and I was hoping in college to get it. Finally, senior year, huge game, I got it and it was exciting.”
Herndon said nerves weren’t a problem before his biggest college PAT.
“I’ve kicked that kick a thousand times,” he said. “I just tried not to think about it too much.”
The Lions face another nationally ranked team this Saturday afternoon when No. 5 Northwest Missouri State comes to Fred G. Hughes Stadium. Like the Lions, the Bearcats are coming off a big victory — 31-21 over former No. 1 Pittsburg State.
“We have to bring the same confidence ... knowing that we played well, executed, and won the game,” Cox said. “Just like Coach said, this is probably the best team in the country right now. They are going to bring a physical game to us, and we have to be physical and take it to them.
“But more importantly, we have to have that confidence that we can compete and we can get the victory.”