It has been a season of streaks for Griffon football. Western started the season with two-straight wins, followed by two-straight losses. The Griffons continued this trend by making it two-straight wins after defeating Lindenwood Saturday afternoon in St. Charles, 37-29.
Missouri Western’s win was difficult for coach Partridge to explain. The Griffons dominated the Lions in all aspects of the game, out-gaining the opposition by almost 200 yards. But, as it has been for most of the season, it was the Griffons’ special teams that were a major letdown.
“Well, I can tell you what kept it from being pretty,” Partridge said. “Kickoff coverage was not good, and just our inability to kick the football period.”
Western struck first on their second drive of the game, led by running back Josh Caldwell, who rushed for 35 yards on that drive. A “roughing the passer” penalty gave Western a first and goal from the two, and that is when quarterback Skylar Windmiller finished-off the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.
Lindenwood was able to capitalize on a short punt later in the first quarter. Western punter Matthew Vincent had a punt go just 34 yards, and the Lions were able to return the punt down to the Griffons’ 30-yard line. Lindenwood running back Aaron Daniels tied the game at seven a piece on a 21-yard touchdown run.
“He was a big kid that ran hard and broke a bunch of tackles,” Partridge said.
Lindenwood took their only lead of the game early in the second quarter, when once again Daniels was able to find the end zone for the Lions. The Griffons struggled with stopping the run the entire afternoon in St. Charles. Western’s defense came into Saturday second in the MIAA in rushing defense, allowing just 78 yards per game. That average jumped up a bit after the Griffons allowed the Lindenwood offense to rush for 225 yards.
The Griffons struck quickly on their ensuing possession when Windmiller connected with wide receiver Dijuan Ussery for a 67-yard touchdown. Ussery finished the game with 90 yards receiving. The Western defense made a big stop on Lindenwood’s next drive, allowing the offense to get the ball back and break the 13-all tie, with another Windmiller touchdown pass–this time to receiver Patrick Bolton. Windmiller finished the game with 266 yards passing and four touchdowns (three passing).
Missouri Western went into halftime with a 27-23 lead. Neither team was able to score in the third quarter, though Western missed a big opportunity early in the period. Caldwell started the drive with a huge 60-yard run down to the Lindenwood three-yard line. But, on third and goal, the Lindenwood defense forced a Windmiller fumble.
“It was definitely his worst turnover of the year,” Partridge said.
The Griffons would get a field goal early in the fourth quarter to give them a one touchdown lead at 30-23. Lindenwood would answer on the following drive on a touchdown run from Allen Thigpen. Thigpen finished the day with only 121 passing yards, but led the Lions with 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The Lions were looking to tie the game after the touchdown, but botched the extra point–making the score 30-29.
Western finally put the game out of reach when Windmiller connected with Bolton for the pair’s second touchdown connection of the afternoon. Bolton finished the game with four receptions for 32 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Though he never found his way into the end zone, the Griffons’ offense was led by the nation’s sixth leading rusher, and the MIAA’s leading rusher continued his dominance in conference play. Caldwell set a career high with 184 rushing yards, giving him 853 yards this season.
“He is as good a soft spot finder as we have ever had,” Partridge said.
The Griffons come home this weekend for possibly their toughest test of the season, Pittsburg State. Missouri Western will try and get revenge after a tough loss last season to Pittsburg, 31-27. It will be a tough test for the Western secondary as they face an offense who ranks third in the conference with 292 yards passing per game. On the other side of the ball, Windmiller and company should have a big day on offense; the Gorillas rank 10th in the MIAA in pass defense.
“Pittsburg is very, very good offensively,” Partridge said. “Really, they have a good receiving corps.”
Both of these sit at 4-2 and are two games back of conference leader Northwest Missouri State. It will start the second half of a schedule that will test the Griffons with every team tied or ahead them in the standings left on their schedule.
Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Spratt Stadium.