By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Missouri Southern’s playbook has been opened a little wider during the middle stages of the football season.
As a result, the Lions have posted their most passing yards (206 against Central Missouri) and rushing yards (421 against South Dakota Mines) during the past two weeks.
“Each week we are growing and getting better, from the offensive line to every position out there,” senior wide receiver Landon Zerkel said. “Especially Kellen (Cox, quarterback), you can really seem him grow every week, so it is exciting.
“The more that we can do, the better we feel like we can do on Saturdays. It’s exciting to see everything come together, so hopefully we can go out there and get things done this Saturday.”
This Saturday afternoon the Lions face their toughest challenge to date when they tackle No. 4 Missouri Western in St. Joseph. The Griffons are off to a 6-0 start for the first time in coach Jerry Partridge’s 16 years, and they haven’t been 7-0 since 1981.
“We are excited,” Zerkel said. “We have a lot of new people who have never been up there to play Missouri Western. We know they are a great team, so it should be fun.”
The Lions’ switch to an option has reduced Zerkel’s chances to make pass receptions, but he remains the No. 1 target. He has 14 of the Lions’ 25 receptions and 313 of the 466 yards through the air. Cox’s two touchdown passes this season have gone to Zerkel for 63 yards at Central Missouri and 58 yards against South Dakota Mines.
Zerkel ran alone behind the secondary for his TD catch against Central Missouri.
“I think maybe the one I got against Lincoln last year for 92 yards might be the only pass that I was that open,” Zerkel said. “But that is what the triple option does for a receiver. They go through that play-action, so that is a part of the game we have to take advantage of.”
Zerkel’s increased blocking chores kindle memories of his Webb City High School career.
“As a receiver at Webb City, you knew you were going to go out there and make big blocks that got our running backs open,” he said. “It’s very similar here. We are trying to get guys on the outside and get them the pitch and get them up the sidelines. So we take pride in what we do blocking.”
Zerkel, 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, ranks second in school history in receptions (187) and third in receiving yards (2,760) and touchdowns (19). He’s only 30 yards and two TDs from moving into second place in those categories.
The record holders: Colin Bado with 250 catches and Rod Smith with 3,122 yards and 35 TDs.
With fewer footballs flying at him, Zerkel said he’s not bored.
“No, I never get bored,” he said. “It’s a lot different. We just take advantage of the plays that we get, and we are going to do what is best for the offense. And when it is time to make a play, we are going to be ready.”