It was the kind of start Missouri Southern dreamed of having.
After a brief miscue, anyways.
Opening the game from its own 37-yard-line, the Lions offense appeared a little confused at the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Jay McDowell looked toward the sideline in search of the call and was forced to burn a timeout before the Lions’ first play of the game.
Maybe it was poor communication. Maybe it was a case of first-game jitters. Either way, it didn’t last long.
After the timeout, the Missouri Southern offense constructed a 10-play, 67-yard drive capped by a 15-yard touchdown run by McDowell. The Lions went on to score touchdowns in their first four possessions, en route to a 52-38 victory over the Central Oklahoma Bronchos on Thursday night at Fred G. Hughes Stadium.
“It was just the first play of the game, the first play of the season,” Missouri Southern junior running back Michael Nelson said. “We weren’t paying attention to the time like we should. But we messed up that one time, called timeout and then just got things straightened out after that.”
The Lions certaintly did.
With a new starting quarterback in McDowell and several other new starters on offense, Missouri Southern set the tone for the game and the season with its opening drive.
“I don’t think the first drive could have gone any better,” said Nelson, who converted to running back this fall after working as a free safety this past spring. “We drove it all the way down the field, took some time off the clock, ran the plays we wanted to run, and they worked out the way we wanted them to.”
After short runs by DeShawn Smith and Terrance Allen, the Lions converted a third-and-3 from their own 44 with a seven-yard pass from McDowell to tight end Dion Collier.
The next set of downs went much like the first. After short runs by Giresse Forchu and McDowell, Missouri Southern faced a third-and-4 from Central Oklahoma’s 43. Again, the Lions went to the air with McDowell looking for Nelson down field. But this time, Missouri Southern needed a little luck to keep the chains moving.
Nelson fell to the ground, and the pass was tipped by Bronchos free safety Devoris Dozier. But the ball landed in the lap of Nelson for a 17-yard gain down to Central Oklahoma’s 26-yard-line.
“I don’t know if we got a break like that all last year,” Missouri Southern coach Daryl Daye said. “Maybe that’s a good sign we’re going to some breaks this year, because those are the type of breaks that help make a winning season.”
Four plays later, McDowell ran in from 15 yards out to give Missouri Southern a 7-0 lead. The Lions went on to score on its first four possessions.
“A first drive is always important,” McDowell said. “Coach did a great job calling the plays. We just kept the defense off balance and kept attacking them.”
McDowell, a sophomore who was in his first start, completed 10-of-11 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 121 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Forchu caught three balls for 107 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 48 yards and a touchdown. Nelson caught two balls for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Still running the option offense, the Lions appear focused on having more balance this fall after passing for less than 800 yards last season.
“We got a great chemistry,” Nelson said. “We’ve been working hard for the last three weeks. Last year, we started this offense out and this year it’s going to start clicking more and more. We’re going to be able to open it up.”