By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
EDMOND, Okla. —
Missouri Southern’s defense sparked a 15-7 halftime lead, and the Lion offense mounted two scoring drives in the third quarter to produce an 18-point advantage.
Central Oklahoma’s offense came to life and scored twice in the fourth quarter before the Lions held on for a 25-20 victory Thursday night before an estimated 6,800 fans at Wantland Stadium.
The Lions ran 72 plays from scrimmage — 15 more than the Bronchos — and owned a 40-20 minute advantage in time of possession while winning a road season opener against an NCAA Division II school for the first time since a 38-22 victory at Ouachita Baptist in 2006.
“Isn’t it fun when a plan comes into place?,” Lions coach Daryl Daye said.
The Lions led 15-7 at the intermission, scoring all their points in a six-minute span midway through the half.
Lions defensive tackle Jonathan Rogers forced a fumble after a pass completion that end Ryon Phillips recovered at the UCO 29.
Running back Bryan Venson used a good second effort to pick up a first down on fourth-and-2 from the 21, and two plays later fullback Anthony Thayer powered his way six yards up the middle for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked, leaving the Bronchos with a 7-6 lead with 3:04 left in the first quarter.
The Bronchos began their ensuing drive at the 4-yard line after an illegal blocking penalty on the kickoff return, and an offensive pass interference penalty nullified a first down and moved the ball back to the 2.
Rogers and Brandon Williams led a strong pass rush to sack Adrian Nelson in the end zone for a safety, giving the Lions an 8-7 lead with 1:54 left in the period.
“I pushed back on the guard,” said Rogers, a senior from Fort Worth, Texas. “I saw the quarterback step up, and me and big Brandon went in and made a play.”
After the free kick, Missouri Southern covered 53 yards in eight plays and scored on quarterback Kellen Cox’s two-yard keeper off the right side. J.J. Jones’ 21-yard gain on third-and-6 came two plays before the score.
Dallas Herndon’s extra point made it 15-7 just over two minutes into the second quarter.
The Bronchos, who moved 59 yards in eight plays for Christian Bobo’s two-yard touchdown, reached the MSSU 31 on quarterback Adrian Nelson’s 11-yard run with 1:13 left in the half. Nelson, however, limped off the field and was replaced by Ethan Sharp.
Sharp, the UCO starter the previous two years, threw a pass to the left side that was tipped and intercepted by Breon Matlock at the 25 and returned to midfield with 49 seconds left in the half.
“The defense did a great job,” Daye said. “Three turnovers, and they were field-position turnovers. I thought we had a couple of nice returns that put us out close to midfield and got us in position as well.
“The defense played early lights out. They were a little rusty the first half, but they woke up and got going and flying around. The thing that I saw that impressed me was when you saw balls thrown in the flat or thrown to open areas, somebody was there and made the tackle.”
“I think we did pretty good,” Rogers said. “Three turnovers, but we didn’t have any the second half. We have to improve on that.”
The Lions swiftly moved 75 yards in five plays and took a 22-7 lead on Travis Hurd’s nine-yard run early in the third quarter. A 23-yard run by Javonte Edwards and 30-yard run by Cox preceded Hurd’s score.
The Lions took 8 minutes, 8 seconds off the clock on their next series and marched 57 yards in 14 plays for Herndon’s 38-yard field goal and a 25-7 lead with 3:02 left in the third quarter.
“I thought we started establishing the fullback,” Daye said. “When the fullback started knocking out four or five yards a pop, that opened up some of the veer option and the outside. I thought we balanced it up pretty well.”
The Bronchos, playing their first MIAA game, did not have a first down for almost 19 minutes in the second half. But Nelson’s 49-yard strike to Marquis Walters and Joshua Birmingham’s one-yard run made it 25-20 with 2:12 left as the Lions stopped UCO on the 2-point conversion.
The Lions were expecting an onside kick, but Central Oklahoma kicked the ball deep — and out of bounds — to give the Lions possession at the 35. Four Cox runs produced the clinching first down.
The Lions open their home schedule on Sept. 8 against Northeastern State.