Special to The Sun
A fourth-quarter surge fell short and Central Oklahoma came up empty in its Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association debut under new head coach Nick Bobeck Thursday night at Wantland Stadium.
The Bronchos scored twice in the final nine minutes to rally from a 25-7 deficit to within 25-20, but the Lions converted a big fourth-down gamble with less than two minutes to play and held on for the win in the first-ever meeting between the two new conference rivals.
Adrian Nelson’s 49-yard touchdown pass with 8:40 left to play and Joshua Birmingham’s one-yard scoring plunge at the 2:12 mark enabled UCO to get close, with the Bronchos then forcing MSSU into a fourth-and-one at its own 44-yard-line with 2:00 remaining.
The Lions went for it and quarterback Kellen Cox squeezed out two yards on a keeper to convert the first down and clinch the win.
“We made too many mistakes and didn’t do enough to win the ball game,” Bobeck said. “We played well in stretches and had some good things in the fourth quarter to get back in the game, but in the end we just didn’t get it done.”
The Bronchos were limited to 249 total yards (148 passing, 101 rushing) and managed just 56 yards in 29 plays over nine possessions from the first quarter until early in the fourth.
Birmingham finished with 83 yards and a TD on 19 carries, while Nelson completed 14-of-26 passes for 148 yards and a score while adding 24 rushing yards. Christian Hood led the receivers with five catches for 42 yards.
The Lions racked up 249 of their 298 yards on the ground with a ball-control option offense and owned a staggering 19-minute advantage in time of possession.
Central linebacker and Edmond native Adrian Shoecraft had nine tackles and defensive backs Brad Harmon and Devoris Dozier eight apiece to top the defense.
UCO opened the game impressively, marching 59 yards in eight plays after taking the opening kickoff to grab a quick 7-0 lead.
Birmingham had an 18-yard burst and the Bronchos kept the drive alive on Nelson’s 20-yard swing pass to tight end Sterling Koons on a fourth-and-one play. Christian Bobo scored from two yards out on the next play.
A lost fumble set up a short 29-yard TD drive for MSSU and the Lions took the lead on a safety late in the opening quarter.
Cox’s two-yard run gave MSSU a 15-7 halftime advantage and that grew to 25-7 in the third period on Travis Hurd’s nine-yard scoring run and Dallas Herndon’s 38-yard field goal.
It was still a 25-7 deficit when UCO got the ball at its own 18 with 11:31 left to play and that’s when the Bronchos finally came back to life.
It took just seven plays to cover 82 yards, with Nelson completing 4-of-4 passes for 71 yards while adding a six-yard keeper. He got the score with a perfectly thrown 49-yard bomb to Marquis Walters and Chris Robbs’ extra point made it 25-14 with 8:40 left.
The defense then got in the act, with Kenny Allen forcing a fumble that Jacob Warner recovered at the UCO 43.
It took 13 plays, but the Bronchos finally got in the end zone on Birmingham’s one-yard smash up the middle with 2:12 remaining. UCO converted two fourth downs in the drive, with Nelson hitting Sam Johnson for nine yards on a fourth-and-four and then running for 10 yards on a fourth-and-two.
The two-point conversion failed, leaving the Bronchos in a 25-20 hole and MSSU held on when Cox’s fourth-down run enabled the Lions to run out the clock.
UCO makes its first MIAA road trip next week, going to defending national champion and top-ranked Pittsburg State on Saturday, Sept. 8.