For the most part, the Griffons know what they are heading into for the 2015 football season.
A team they may not be so sure about is the Central Missouri University Mules.
“Central Missouri is a very good football team,” Griffon head football coach Jerry Partridge said. “We’ve had a lot of success with them the last 12 years, but that doesn’t mean we get to win this one. They are going to be fired up, it’s going to be a great crowd and we’re going to have to play our very best to win it.”
The Mules lost nearly all their major statistical contributors on offense last season, and the one major offensive clog they do have was in his first game with the team last season when the two squads faced off and was not a huge factor in the game.
“I know they lost a lot of really good football players from last year’s squad that also went 7-4 and I think we return more (than they do),” Partridge said.
LaVance Taylor was a major factor. In a game where his team only scored nine points, the All-MIAA running back accounted for 204 all-purpose yards and the team’s only touchdown.
The star running back spent his offseason in St. Joseph with the Kansas City Chiefs instead of in Warrensburg preparing for the Griffons to invade town.
With Taylor’s graduation, Ray Harris will likely step into the lead back role. Although he did have a 48-yard run against the Griffons last year, Harris is not nearly the accomplished threat Taylor was for the Mules.
Central also enters the season with some uncertainty at the most important position on the field.
A quarterback competition raged all off-season between juniors Garrett Fugate and Eric Siebenshuh.
“Fugate is more of an athletic kid, and outstanding all-around athlete,” Central Missouri head coach Jim Svoboda said at MIAA Media Day. “Eric [Siebenshuh] is one of the better pure passers around.”
Fugate is listed as the starter, and was the only quarterback to action for the Mules other than departed starter Hayden Hawk.
Fugate served primarily as a runner in 2014, rushing for 128 yards on 125 carries while he only threw the ball nine times, completing five of those attempts for 46 yards.
The wildcard in the competition is freshman Brook Bolles.
“Brook has got that youthful exuberance,” Svoboda said at MIAA Media Day. “He’s really talented, got a lively arm and is one of those kids that was an exciting athlete in high school.”
The Bolles name is one many Western fans will recognize. Blake Bolles was a Northwest Missouri State quarterback from 2007-2010. The signal-caller was a D2Football.com All-American in 2009, and in 2010, he finished third in the Harlon Hill Trophy voting. Brady Bolles is the current starting quarterback at Northwest and was second team All-MIAA last season.
Whoever emerges from the quarterback completion will have a proven target to throw to.
Kansas State-transfer Kyle Echols finished his first season with the Mules with a team-high 532 yards on 25 receptions, while also scoring a team-high five receiving touchdowns.
Luckily for the Griffons, they have All-American cornerback Mike Jordan to counter the 6-foot-2 sophomore receiver with.
Offensively, the key for the Griffons will be getting Raphael Spencer going early and often.
“Raphael is no doubt one of the top backs in the conference,” Griffon starting quarterback Skyler Windmiller said. “He’s always there to make a play, whether the ball is in his hands or not.”
As the other first team All-MIAA running back last season, Spencer got off to an explosive start with 162 rushing yards on 31 carries. The senior scored the game-winning touchdown with a 3-yard plunge with 1:28 remaining in the game.
On Thursday, the Griffons will look to widen the margin of victory from last season’s 1-point squeaker.
“It’s going to be the team that makes the fewest mistakes,” Partridge said. “The team that can be mistake-free, execute the best and not shoot themselves in the foot usually wins.”
The action will begin on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Warrensburg.
“I’m sure they have the calendar circled for us,” Partridge said. “We have it circled for them, too.”