By Cody Thorn
Special to The Globe
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. —
For the latter parts of the fourth quarter, it appeared Missouri Southern would prove no match to the leg of a Missouri Western kicker that transferred from Nebraska-Omaha.
Instead, for the second time in two trips to St. Joseph, the Lions eked out a victory.
J.J. Jones scored with two minutes left and the Lions defense made two big stops to seal an upset over No. 4 Missouri Western 31-30 Saturday afternoon at Spratt Stadium.
The game was delayed by lightning with less than four minutes to play, but after the hour-long wait, Southern engineered the game-winning drive. The win rivaled the 2009 victory where the Lions scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and left with a 35-34 win over the then-No. 12 Griffons.
“It is all about playing four quarters, and we came together after the rain delay,” said Southern wide receiver Landon Zerkel, who caught a touchdown in the 2009 upset. “It feels good to come up here and knock them off. To come here and do that speaks a lot of our coaches and players. Coming up here and doing this is probably the biggest win I’ve had at Southern.”
Southern trailed 30-24 when a lightning delay hit with 3:56 left in the game. The Lions had two incomplete passes in a three-play span prior to the wait.
When play resumed, the rushing attack of the Lions (5-2, 4-2 MIAA) was hard to stop.
Bryant Venson rattled off runs of 12 and 9 yards before Kellen Cox hit Will Cuffee for a 20-yard gain.
Ne’Ronte Threatt took a pitch from Cox and dashed 21 yards down the Western sideline, getting pushed out of bounds by Ben Jackson at the 1.
On the next play, Jones ran around left tackle for the touchdown, and Dallas Herndon’s PAT made it 31-30 with 2 minutes left.
During the delay, the Southern coach scripted the order of how they wanted the plays ran once play resumed.
“It worked just like we had it drawn up,” Southern coach Daryl Daye said.
Over the final two minutes, the Griffons (6-1, 5-1) committed two turnovers. Quarterback Travis Partridge fumbled on a handoff as he was hit by Lions’ linebacker Aaron Hill, who recovered it. Southern wasn’t able to get a first down and Western used its three remaining timeouts to force a punt.
The Griffons, with the ball at their 30, ran only one play. Partridge looked toward the sideline and threw toward Kyle Knox. Instead, Brian Rodgers jumped the coverage and picked it off. The senior defensive back ran back eight yards before sliding down at the Western 24, sealing the win.
“We were in zone coverage and I sat on the route and baited him,” Rodgers said. “He threw it and I knew with no timeouts they’d throw it to the sideline.”
The upset on the road included a little bit of everything.
The Lions used trick plays, big plays and big defensive stops to build a 24-17 lead in the third quarter.
Southern trailed 7-0 before gambling on a fake punt in the second quarter. After having two punts net 50 yards, punter Stewart Quinn threw to linebacker Gatlin Ridgway for an 18-yard gain and kept the drive alive.
From there, the Lions methodically moved downfield and scored in 11 plays. Cox ran for a 24-yard gain on a keeper and wide receiver Threatt threw for a 15-yard gain to Venson on a pivotal third-down play in Western territory.
Two plays after Venson’s catch, Cox took a snap and scored on a one-yard keeper to tie the game.
Western appeared to go three-and-out on the ensuing possession, but Reggie Jordan took the direct snap on the Western punt attempt and followed his blocker, Wallace Carter, up the sideline for an 86-yard score. It was the second score on a fake punt in two years for the 6-foot-3, 235-pound tight end.
The squads traded field goals in the second quarter, before Southern scored as time expired in the first half.
Down 17-10, Southern took over with 1 minute, 46 seconds left.
The Lions mixed in mostly runs as the clock ticked away but took advantage of chain-moving passes as well. Back-to-back big gains by Venson — a 20-yard run and a 23-yard catch — moved the Lions into the red zone. Zerkel hauled in a nine-yard pass and go out of bounds with 3.8 seconds left — setting up the final play of the first half.
After a timeout, Southern went for the touchdown and Threatt got the handoff coming around the side and dove into the end zone. The PAT tied the game at 17.
Southern made a big defensive stop and then took the lead to open the second half.
Demond Horsley’s hit on Derek Libby deep in Western’s territory thwarted a fourth-down attempt at the 16-yard line.
The Lions took appeared to have a quick three-and-out, but a personal foul on Western’s Ben Pister after a nine-yard reception kept the drive alive. The 24-yard gain moved the ball to midfield and four plays later Venson took an option pitch from Cox and dashed 38 yards untouched for a touchdown.
But just over a minute later, Partridge’s 61-yard pass to Knox set up Partridge’s one-yard TD to tie the game. Taylor Anderson hit 53- and 29-yard field goals to give the Griffons a 30-24 lead, setting the stage for the Lions’ dramatics.
“It was a great win,” Daye said. “The delay sure looked like a good thing. I’d take one every game if we come out and do that. You have got to give everyone a Snickers bar and get them back in there and keep it rolling.”