By: Harry Loomis
With many past, present and future Griffons in the house, Missouri Western football put on a show.
Highlighted by two interceptions, two blocked kicks and 136 yards by Markel Smith, Missouri Western capped off Homecoming week with its first home win of the season, defeating Missouri Southern, 43-34.
The first quarter started slow for Missouri Western. After a failed Missouri Southern fourth-down conversion and a Missouri Western punt, Missouri Southern went on an eight minute scoring drive, culminating in a five-yard rushing touchdown with 35 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Griffon coach Matt Williamson said that this drive lit a spark in his offense.
“Our offense couldn’t wait to get on the field,” Williamson said. “I can tell you that.”
The Griffons got going immediately after the score. Right after a 22-yard kickoff return by freshman Trey Vaval, senior quarterback Wyatt Steigerwald found senior tight end Blake Burau who took it all the way to the end zone for a 66-yard touchdown. Just like that, the Griffons found themselves tied at seven apiece after one quarter of play.
The Griffons kept the momentum up into the second quarter. After stopping the Lions on another fourth down, the Griffons marched down the field to the tune of a seven play, 64-yard drive capped off by a 16-yard rushing touchdown by Markel Smith. The extra point, however, was blocked, leaving the score at 13-7.
This, in turn, set off the Lions offense, as they responded with a touchdown of their own, only for their kick to also get blocked. With the game tied at 13, the Griffons needed a spark. That was delivered by Smith, who scored his second touchdown, this one going for 44 yards to put the Griffons up 20-13 with under two minutes left in the half.
Before the Lions could start going down the field, their drive was dead. With 1:15 remaining in the half, Sam Webb intercepted a deflected pass at the Missouri Western 46-yard line. The Griffons went down and kicked a field goal to take a 10-point lead into halftime.
The third quarter was fairly unspectacular for the Griffons, but they stayed with it. After falling behind 27-26 with three minutes left in the quarter, sophomore defensive back Kobe Cummings intercepted a pass and took it to the Lion 9-yard line. Sam Aviles drilled a 27-yard field goal – his second of the quarter – to put the Griffons back up by two going into the fourth.
The Griffons wasted no time getting to work in the fourth quarter, as Steigerwald found Eldridge Joyce in the end zone two minutes into the fourth quarter. The Lions didn’t back down and scored one themselves. The Griffons, however, were just too much for the Lions defense to handle, as Steigerwald hit Kyle Berry for a 43-yard score five minutes into the quarter, putting the Griffons up 43-34 with 9:50 left in the game. That’s how the game would end. Jacob Park would recover a Lion fumble, and Webb blocked another field goal to go along with his earlier interception. After Steigerwald took a knee, the game was over, the bell was rung and a 12-minute fireworks show ensued.
As for Steigerwald, he went 16-27 with 229 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Smith had a big day as well with 141 yards on 12 attempts and a pair of touchdowns.
Smith said a good week of practice helped him perform come gametime.
“We worked on it all week at practice,” Smith said. “Just trusting the keys and seeing what you see.”
Williamson was happy with the defensive performance that forced three turnovers.
“We protected really well,” Williamson said. “Overall, it was a good performance by our guys.”
The Griffons will look to make it three wins in a row next Saturday when they travel to Central Oklahoma for a meeting against the Bronchos.