By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
Missouri Southern senior defensive lineman Brandon Williams could barely contain his joy.
“Winning season,” Williams said with a huge smile on his face. “Winning season.”
Williams’ excitement is understandable.
The Lions (6-4, 5-4 MIAA) had just defeated Truman State 34-10 on Saturday afternoon at Fred G. Hughes Stadium in the John Ware Memorial Classic. The victory guaranteed the program’s first winning season since 2007. Missouri Southern has had only two winning seasons since 1997.
“It’s great,” Williams said. “The seniors, we’ve been waiting for this for five years. The new guys, it’s a great building block for them. Us being seniors, everybody who has been grinding since day one as freshmen, it feels great. It feels amazing.”
Missouri Southern earned the accomplishment with a dominating performance on both sides of the ball for the final three quarters.
The Bulldogs opened the game with a 10-0 lead, but the Lions responded by holding Truman scoreless for the next 42 minutes and by scoring 34 unanswered points — 27 in the second quarter.
Truman (4-6, 3-6) took the two-score lead at the 12:44 mark of the second quarter when Garrett White scored on a one-yard run.
The Lions answered on the next play as running back Ne’Ronte Threatt took the option pitch 73 yards for the touchdown. After the missed extra point, Southern still trailed 10-6. However, the momentum was starting to swing.
“I thought it was huge,” Missouri Southern coach Daryl Daye said. “It just energized everybody. It kind of sparked the team. At the time, it was kind of a flat feeling. All of a sudden, we got a boost.”
The boost carried over to the rest of the game. The Lions took a 13-10 lead later in the second quarter on a 21-yard touchdown run from quarterback Kellen Cox.
Southern dominated from that point and finished with 409 yards rushing 66 carries. The effective running game allowed the Lions to control the time of possession with more than 44 minutes, compared to Truman’s 15 minutes and 36 seconds.
“That’s a good example of what option football can do,” Daye said. “It can put 34 points on the board. It can control the clock with this style of offense.”
Threatt was a big part of that. The senior, who converted from slot receiver to running back this season, finished with a career high 172 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. Threatt has grown into the position, surpassing his previous best of 60 yards last week against Lindenwood.
“It’s just doing what the coach tells me to do,” Threatt said. “I don’t have a choice either way, so I’m just going to do what he tells me. Six wins ... hey, it’s OK with me.”
It also was a strong effort by the defense. After allowing 94 yards in the first 17 minutes, Southern held the Bulldogs to 121 the rest of the way. The Lions forced two turnovers and limited Truman to 42 yards rushing.
“It was huge,” said Missouri Southern junior linebacker Gatlin Ridgway, who had eight tackles. “We’ve been talking all year about letting the seniors go out with a winning season. We were able to give it to them, and it feels good.”
Williams earned the 25th sack of his career, improving on the school record he set two weeks ago against Northwest Missouri. He also had a forced fumble.
Now, Missouri Southern will try to earn another milestone. The Lions, who haven’t beat Pitt State since 1993, host a Gorillas team that is coming off a 44-33 loss to Lindenwood. The rivalry game will be 2 p.m. Saturday in Joplin.
“We’re ready,” Williams said. “We’re so ready for them to be here. We’re going to start Tuesday and prepare like usual. We’re going to bring the hard hats, put the rocks in our shoes and get after it.”