Without starting quarterback Skyler Windmiller or star wide receiver Dee Toliver, Missouri Western was still able to pull away from Lindenwood in the second half and cruise to a 34-14 victory.
Sophomore quarterback T.J. LaFaver learned on Wednesday before the game that he would be the starter, as Windmiller was still dealing with effects from a concussion suffered last week.
If anyone understands what Windmiller is going through, it is LaFaver, who was the starter going into the season last year before suffering a concussion in week one and eventually losing his job to Windmiller after Windmiller took advantage of his opportunity and played well.
“I would not wish that injury on anyone,” LaFaver said.
This year, it was LaFaver’s turn to step up when his team needed him.
The sophomore responded with a 279-yard performance on 18-for-28 passing with one touchdown and no interceptions. He also used his mobility to extend multiple plays and avoid being sacked by the Lion defense.
Despite LaFaver playing well, the Griffons trailed 14-6 at halftime. But early in the third quarter, LaFaver made sure to change that.
LaFaver dropped back and fired a deep pass down the right sideline and found Western speedster Dijuan Ussery for a 57-yard touchdown. Ussery finished with five grabs for 151 yards.
“I’m just so proud of Dijuan for stepping up,” LaFaver said. “I know all I have to do is turn around, do my play fake and put everything I have behind it and he’s just going to run under it. There is no one on the field that can run with him.”
The throw seemed to be a turning point for the Griffons. The defense stepped up in the second half to limit the Lion offense to 34 total yards in the half after allowing 14 first half points.
“We came out fired up in the third quarter,” senior linebacker Yomi Alli said. “We knew we weren’t having fun (in the first half). When we have fun is when we play our best.
“Our biggest adjustment was emotionally. Being confident and playing our game and not the other team’s game.”
Western took the lead on a three-yard Josh Caldwell plunge. Tanner Pettet’s second missed extra point of the game kept the Western lead at 18-14.
Pettet, who missed three of his four extra point kicks in the game, also missed a field goal and had another blocked before a roughing the kicker penalty gave him another chance.
“Missing field goals and extra points is a problem,” Griffon coach Jerry Partridge said.
The Griffon defense was there to pick their struggling teammate up.
On the ensuing possession, Alli scooped up a Lions’ fumble and sprinted for a Western score and gave the team a 25-14 lead.
A Pettet 29-yard field goal gave the Griffons a two-touchdown lead and with 5:27 left in the game, Raphael Spencer put the final nail in the Lion coffin on a two-yard dive into the end zone.
The star Griffon halfback finished with 120 yards on 26 carries and his understudy Josh Caldwell added 88 yards on only 10 rushes.
Western is back in action Saturday in Pittsburg, Kansas, against Pittsburg State.