The season ended with a 17-10 loss in the Super Region 3 final at Minnesota State-Mankato, but the 2012 Griffon football team will be remembered for its unprecedented success.
“We did things that no other Western team has done and nobody can take that away from us,” senior safety Shane Simpson said. “We had fun and created a lot of good memories.”
Western finished at 12-2, the highest win total in school history. The Griffons made a run in the playoffs for the first time after defeating Minnesota-Duluth 57-55 in triple overtime at Spratt Stadium in the first round. The team traveled to Arkadelphia, Ark., and dominated the second round with a 45-21 victory over No. 6 Henderson State.
The Griffons went 9-1 in the extremely competitive MIAA, including a 21-20 comeback victory over rival Northwest Missouri State in the championship game in Maryville. Western gained sole possession of the MIAA championship for the first time.
Western looked to expose defenses on the ground with a potent rushing attack. Senior running back Michael Hill led the way, rushing for 2,168 yards and 16 touchdowns. Hill ranked No. 2 in the nation in rushing yards per game with 154. Quarterback Travis Partridge rushed for 451 yards and a school record 18 touchdowns on the ground. Raphael Spencer spelled Hill and added 608 yards and five touchdowns.
“Western in my mind will always be home, this is the place and only place that showed interest in my abilities and has helped me grow as a player and a person,” Hill said. “Knowing that I have accomplished a lot while here is an awesome feeling. I’ve worked my tail off, although I couldn’t have gotten all of the awards or accomplishments with out my teammates, it shows hard work pays off.”
Partridge showed vast improvement as a passer in his second season as the starting quarterback. He threw for 2,706 yards and connected with his receivers for 30 touchdowns, while throwing 12 interceptions. He set a new career-high for passing in the playoff game against Minnesota-Duluth with 319 yards.
The Griffons featured a deep core of receivers. Kyle Knox led the team in receiving with 602 yards and added 2 touchdowns while Tarrell Downing added 508 yards and 3 touchdowns. Ty’ron Crockom used his speed and elusiveness to gain 465 yards and scored seven touchdowns, often the result of a screen pass or reverse. Tight end Reggie Jordan proved to be a valuable red zone weapon, scoring 11 touchdowns on the season while gaining 233 yards.
The defensive front proved to be a big strength for the Griffons. Senior defensive ends David Bass and Ben Pister caused mayhem for opposing offenses all season. Bass led the team in sacks with 11.5 and set the all-time career sack record with 36 while Pister sacked the quarterback eight times with a record 22.5 tackles for loss. Austin Baska added 11.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Freshman Michael Jordan starred at cornerback with four interceptions while Simpson, Bass, Ben Jackson and Stephen Juergens came away with two each. Juergens led the team with 95 tackles including 44 solo.
The Griffons only allowed teams to gain 383 yards per game while the offense powered its way to 458 yards per game.
Kicker Taylor Anderson made a record 80-straight extra point attempts.
After a 6-0 start, Western lost to Missouri Southern 31-30 on homecoming and responded to the adversity in a major way. Western traveled to Pittsburg, Kan., and handed the defending champions their worst home loss in history, a 63-14 blowout. Western continued to dominate ranked opponents for the next two weeks to secure their spot in the playoffs, beating No. 15 Emporia State 57-28 and No. 25 Washburn 56-28.
Western has some big shoes to fill on both sides of the ball next season after graduating 22 seniors.