[caption id="attachment_25212" align="alignnone" width="200"] Yomi Alli, center, celebrates after his touchdown with teammates Elroy Douglas, left, and Darrian Bass, right.
Zack Papenberg | Photo Editor[/caption]
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.
Last week, Northeastern State made the mistake of giving a freshman quarterback his first start against Western’s secondary. The Griffon defense made them pay in the 24-17 win by forcing Blayne Armstrong to go 0-for-4 with three interceptions before he was pulled for veteran quarterback Kevin Pantastico. All in all, Western came up with five interceptions on the day, including one each from each member of the starting secondary. Jonathan Owens, Donte Watkins and Mike Jordan all picked off Armstrong, while Sam Brown was able to record an interception off Pantastico. This week, the secondary has a new challenge as Jesse Scoggins and Lindenwood roll into Spratt Stadium. Lindenwood will show up on Saturday with a 1-2 record with losses to Pittsburg State and Fort Hays State. But in Scroggins, the Lions possess one of the most intriguing players in the MIAA. In 2010, the Lakewood, Calf., native was the second ranked quarterback recruit in the country according to ESPN. That was higher ranked than Michigan’s Devin Gardner, who was fifth, Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, sixth, Missouri’s James Franklin, 59th, and former third overall NFL Draft pick and Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, who was 66 spots below Scroggins at 68. He was the No. 55 prospect overall, over future first round draftees Eric Reid from LSU, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews from Texas A&M, C.J. Mosley from Alabama and Anthony Barr of UCLA. The highly-touted quarterback choose Pete Carroll’s University of Southern California offer over reported offers from Nebraska, Florida, LSU, Tennessee, Washington and many others. The one problem with Scroggins choosing USC was that the Trojans already had a quarterback on the roster who was just one year older than Scroggins, Matt Barkley. Barkley was the No. 1 recruit in the nation in 2009 and was already flourishing as the Trojans’ starting quarterback before Scroggins even had the opportunity to step on campus. Scroggins redshirted his first season at USC and then rode the bench in 2011 while Barkley led the team to a 10-2 record and Barkley finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting. With Barkley coming back for his senior season in 2012, Scroggins decided to transfer in search of his first game-action of his college career. He went to El Camino College and played well enough to get back on the Division-I radar. In 2013, he joined the University of Arizona program. In 2013, he once again found himself unable to get on the field. The junior waited for his chance the following year, however, when B.J. Denker would graduate and Scroggins could attempt to win the job for his senior season. Freshman Anu Solomon beat out the senior for the job, however, and Scroggins was again relegated to clipboard duty. He did get some regular season action when Solomon was hurt or the Wildcats had a comfortable lead, but never for too long, until the Pac-12 Championship Game. With Solomon battling injury and the Oregon Ducks taking a commanding lead in the game, Scroggins was inserted into the lineup at halftime. Although he just went 3-for-11 and Oregon cruised to a 51-13 win, Scroggins did throw his first collegiate touchdown pass: a 69-yard bomb. Last spring, Scroggins contacted Lindenwood in hopes of continuing his athletic career on the baseball diamond, but to his surprise they informed him he still had football eligibility at the Division-II level. So now the sixth-year quarterback looks to leave one more impression on the football field in his final season. Saturday, though, will be a tough test for the signal-caller, whose season, much like his college career, has been up-and-down thus far. In three games, he has thrown for 564 yards and three touchdowns, but only has a 46 percent completion rate and has thrown three interceptions. The Griffon secondary hopes to add to that interception total on Saturday and show the former Pac-12 player that the MIAA can create plenty of problems for him as well.
Saturday was a special day for Griffon athletics. Griffon football finally had their long-awaited debut on the new turf at Craig Field against Central Oklahoma. The first touchdown came from an unexpected source, however. Junior Daylon Harper is transitioning to defensive line after spending the last couple seasons on the offensive side of the ball. Despite serving as a defensive player this season, when Griffon coach Jerry Partridge posed the the question, ‘Who wants to score the first touchdown on the new turf?’ in a team meeting, the former tight end and offensive lineman didn’t hesitate. “Right before, we were all in a team meeting and coach asks us who’s going to score the first touchdown on the new field,” Harper said. “I raised my hand high. I said I’m going to do it.” Partridge can not help but smile when asked about the moment. “I said, ‘Who’s going to be the first guy in that new black end zone?’” Partridge said. “Dylon said, ‘I will be.’ And sure enough he was. He ran really hard, like a bull out-of-control and I’m really happy for him.” In fact, the long-time Griffon head coach can’t help but smile when Harper is asked about at all. “He was a reserve tackle. He was a good tight end for us. He caught a touchdown pass in one of his first games,” Partridge said. Not often do those types of moments actually get to play themselves out on the gridiron, though. But, Saturday was a special day. With the game still scoreless at the 7:39 mark of the first quarter, wide receiver Dee Tolliver hauled in a deep Skyler Windmiller delivery and sprinted down the left sideline. Nearly everyone in Spratt Stadium thought Tolliver was bound for the end zone, but the star receiver was playing with an injured shoulder and at what he estimated after the game to be 80 percent. “If he had use of his right shoulder, I think he would have stiff-armed and scored,” Partridge said. Dee was brought down at the seven yard line by Central Oklahoma’s Omari Cole after the 76-yard play. On first-and-goal, Western went to another player who would have been one of the more likely players to hit pay dirt first. All-MIAA tailback Raphael Spencer carried it down to the four yard line for a three-yard gain. Then Partridge inserted the the 6-foot-4, 260 pounder from Arnold, Missouri. Harper took the second down handoff and plunged into the line. The pile moved forward and lurched towards the end zone before Harper collapsed. As they unpiled it became quickly evident to all those in attendance that Harper was in and, most importantly, the Griffons had a touchdown lead. “My offensive line blocked great,” Harper said. “I didn’t have to do much, I just followed them in.” Western continued their strong play against the Bronchos and both Spencer and freshman Josh Caldwell ended up with over 100 yards rushing as Western won 26-16. The win was what delighted Harper the most. “It was a great team win,” Harper said. “I loved it. I love winning. I love going up under that tree afterwards. It’s amazing.” But the run that will be remembered the longest wasn’t from either of the shifty running backs; it was from the offensive-lineman-turned-tight-end-turned-defensive-lineman who dared to raise his hand and say that he wanted it. Now the Griffon record books will forever show... First points in a football game at Craig Field: Daylon Harper.
[caption id="attachment_24936" align="alignnone" width="300"] Senior receiver Dee Tolliver attempts to break away from Central Oklahoma Omari Cole in the first half of Saturday's win over the Bronchos. - Zach Papenberg | Photo Editor[/caption] The Missouri Western football team got their mojo back with a big win against Central Oklahoma with a 26-16 victory on Saturday afternoon at Craig Field. They accomplished it by going back to what the program was built on, a dominating rushing attack and a suffocating defense. “We got a good football team,” Griffon Coach Jerry Partridge said. “We still haven’t played our best. We felt like we were a better team than them. We thought we were better the first game too, we just didn’t win the game.” Raphael Spencer put up 113 yards for the Griffons after having one of the least productive games of his career last week in the loss to Central Missouri. Spencer said "attitude" and the "tremendous job" done by the line made all the difference. Spencer wasn’t the only Griffon runner with a great day against the the Bronchos. Josh Caldwell finished with 129 yards on just 16 carries. The redshirt-freshman is the under-study to Spencer, who was a first-team All-MIAA back in his junior season last year, but this season he offers a more north-south option for the rushing attack than the scat-back style that Spencer uses so effectively. “I knew that the day Josh was involved in the offense that we were going to do big things together,” Spencer said. “Its a great tandem especially with Josh being as young as he is,” Partridge said. With their two lead backs providing a stable running game, it allowed Partridge and the Western coaching staff to pick and choose when they threw the ball and receiver Dee Tolliver took full advantage of the opportunities he was provided with. Tolliver had just three receptions in the contest but finished with 162 yards to spearhead the passing attack. The senior wasn’t even expected to play earlier in the week when Partridge stated that the Griffons’ trainers thought Tolliver was crazy for even thinking he could play on Saturday. “I would say I was 80 percent, but I’ve really been rehabbing a lot and trying to make sure I could be out there for my team,” Tolliver said. “I didn’t want to miss this game and I think I showed courage to step up and be out there for my teammates." “(My shoulder) is really sore, but I put everything out there for my team and my team did a great job. That’s all that matters.” Tolliver got the offense rolling in the first quarter when he was able to haul in a pass from Skyler Windmiller and head up the left sideline in front of the newly renovated Spratt Stadium home grandstands for a 76 yard gain to the Broncho seven yard-line. After Spencer ran it down to the four, the Griffons reached into their bag of tricks and inserted 260-pound defensive lineman Daylon Harper into the backfield and big no. 96 rumbled to pay dirt to give the Griffons a 7-0 lead. Midway through the second quarter Western added even more momentum in one of the most unconventional ways imaginable. Windmiller’s pass deep down the middle of the field was intercepted by Levonte Douglas and the Central Oklahoma defensive back stumbled backwards into his own end zone before falling down for the safety. On the ensuing possession for the Griffons, Caldwell and Spencer began to flex their muscles and impose their will on the Bronchos. Caldwell broke a nine-yard run on the first play and Spencer followed that up with a 38-yard scamper. It was Caldwell’s turn on the next carry and he punched it in with a 15-yard burst. After a Tanner Pettet field goal, the Griffons entered halftime with a 19-0 lead. The Griffons weren’t satisfied there though and on the their first offensive play from scrimmage in the second half, Tolliver once again got loose deep and Windmiller hit him for a 76 yard touchdown. The Griffon defense was at the top of their game for a majority of the day as well with defensive stars Mike Jordan and Sam Brown combining for three interceptions and not allowing a Broncho offensive touchdown until the game’s last five minutes. “Our goal was to make them throw the ball,” Partridge said. “(We had) a lot of really good pass breakups today.” After the disappointment of Week One, it appears Griffon football is back on track with a tried and true strategy that has yielded great results in the past.
[caption id="attachment_24890" align="alignnone" width="300"] Senior receiver Dee Tolliver makes cut last season. - File Photo[/caption] The final score of Thursday's Central Missouri game didn't represent the only loss Western suffered that day. Last season's leading receiver Dee Tolliver got off to a great start in the Week One matchup with a highlight-reel touchdown grab and finished with four catches for 84 yards. The senior suffered a shoulder injury and finished the 18-17 loss on the sideline with a wrap on his shoulder. On Tuesday, Griffon Coach Jerry Partridge revealed that the 5-11 receiver had an AC joint sprain. "He's telling people he's going to play this Saturday, [Head Trainer Blaise Kriley] said he's crazy," Partridge said. "I think we might get Dee next week maybe, its possible." With Tolliver's status up in the air heading into Saturday's home opener with Central Oklahoma, Western's receiving corps is in flux. During the offseason, the Griffons lost their other starting receiver, Stephon Weaver. Last semester, Weaver left the team for personal reasons and looks to return next season. Brandynn Clark had a career day against UCM with 104 yards on five catches. Trey Lewis also had a big game with four catches for 68 yards and return man Dijuan Ussery may be counted on to provide more to the passing game. "Dijuan, we had him backing up the right side," Partridge said. "So we're going to have him more left side now. He's a weapon." Saturday's game between Western and Central Oklahoma kicks off at 1 p.m. as the Griffons play for the first time on Craig Field.