By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Linebacker Gatlin Ridgway was everywhere in Missouri Southern’s 47-20 victory over South Dakota Mines.
His contributions included nine tackles (one behind the line of scrimmage), one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and an interception he returned 43 yards for the Lions’ second touchdown.
“Just being in the right place at the right time,” said Ridgway, 5-foot-10, 205-pound junior from Danville, Ohio. “I had that one ball just fall in my lap, just got lucky. But other than that, just preparation gets you where you have to be.”
The Lions return to MIAA action for the final five games of the season, starting today at undefeated and No. 4-ranked Missouri Western.
At 6-0, the Griffons have matched the best start in school history. They won their first seven games in 1981.
“If you look up and down their roster, it’s amazing how many redshirt seniors they have, and that is by design,” Lions coach Daryl Daye said. “Coach (Jerry) Partridge gets them in there as freshmen, redshirts them, and they are grown men by the time they are seniors. I am not surprised (by their record) at all.”
Missouri Southern ranks first in the conference and 11th in the nation in rushing defense, yielding 88.8 yards per game. That defense will be challenged today by the Griffons’ Michael Hill, who leads Division II in rushing at 179.2 yards per game.
Hill, 5-11, 205 senior, has 145 carries for 1,075 yards and six touchdowns this season.
Quarterback Travis Partridge, the coach’s son, has thrown for 1,069 yards and 16 touchdowns and run for 196 yards and five scores. Wide receiver Kyle Knox has the most catches (19 for 315 yards) but tight end Reggie Jordan has six TDs among 12 receptions.
“They are very multiple, but it comes down to stopping the run,” Daye said. “To play effective football and have an opportunity to win the ball game, we have to stop the run first, and Coach Partridge is the kind of coach who will make you stop the run first.
“He’s an old-school, aggressive coach, so we are expecting him to come out and trade punches right off the bat and find out if we can stop the run.”
The Griffons lead the league in rushing offense (284.8) and the Lions are second (274.3). Missouri Western has added 180.2 yards through the air to the Lions’ 77.7 yards.
Missouri Western is fifth in the league in rushing defense (126.5) and third sixth in total defense (335.7), just behind the Lions’ 333.2 yards.
“They are very good up front defensively,” Daye said. “They have some good athletes on the perimeter, but they are excellent up front. This is probably one of the better defensive lines that we have seen, if not the best.”
Ridgway’s nine tackles gave him 29 for the season, ranking him fourth on the team. His five tackles for loss are second behind Brandon Williams’ 7.5 stops in the backfield.
“It’s a tough league,” Ridgway said. “I don’t know how many teams we play that are in the top 10, but it’s fun. It’s good competition.”
Ridgway transferred to Missouri Southern from Highland (Miss.) Junior College.
“Coach (Chass) Williams (MSSU assistant) actually coached me at my junior college,” Ridgway said. “I came here for a visit and really liked it.”