Special to The Sun
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Missouri Southern’s potent triple-option attack was simply too much for Central Oklahoma at Missouri Southern University Thursday night.
Dual-threat quarterback Jay McDowell dissected the Bronchos with his running and passing as UCO fell behind early and never recovered in dropping a wild 52-38 Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association decision at Fred G. Hughes Stadium.
The Lions rolled up 308 of their 473 yards in the first half to grab a big 35-14 lead and stayed safely in front the rest of the way to hand the Bronchos their sixth straight season-opening loss.
Central Oklahoma trailed by two-plus touchdowns most of the game, but tried to make it interesting at the end. The Bronchos cut a 49-24 deficit to 52-38 with less than five minutes left and drove inside MSSU’s 30-yard-line in the final two minutes before coming up short on fourth down.
“Missouri Southern just took it to us offensively,” UCO head coach Nick Bobeck said. “We made a lot of mistakes and it’s definitely a disappointing start, but there were some positives and our guys never gave up. We have to put this game behind us, learn from it and get ready for next week.”
The Bronchos open a two-game homestand next Saturday, hosting league rival Pittsburg State (Kan.) at 6 p.m.
McDowell accounted for four touchdowns, hitting 10-of-11 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns while adding 15 rushes for 121 yards and two scores.
UCO actually outgained the Lions, finishing with 511 yards. Quarterback Adrian Nelson had the 14th-best single-game passing performance in school history with 328 yards — hitting 16-of-33 attempts — and Marquez Clark hauled in four of those passes for 137 yards.
Star running back Joshua Birmingham had the 15th 100-yard rushing game of his stellar career, racking up 169 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries while also setting a single-game school record with eight kickoff returns for 114 yards. He finished with 303 all-purpose yards, the third-best single-game outing at UCO.
Missouri Southern jumped on top early, scoring on its first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead barely 10 minutes into the game as McDowell had a 15-yard score and Giresse Forchu a two-yard TD.
The Bronchos answered the second score with a 74-yard scoring march that Birmingham capped with a 19-yard scamper through a big hole on the right side. Nelson had a big 23-yard pass in the drive and Birmingham gained 46 yards on five carries.
That cut the deficit to 14-7, but the Lions needed just three plays to regain control as McDowell threw a 60-yard bomb. UCO lost a fumble in Missouri Southern territory on its next possession and McDowell made the Bronchos pay with a 51-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-7 early in the second quarter.
Clark put the Bronchos in prime position with a 62-yard return on the ensuing kickoff and Birmingham picked up his second TD two plays later with a nifty 22-yard dash, popping up after landing on a would-be tackler at the five-yard-line to complete the score.
McDowell’s five-yard TD keeper late in the half gave the Lions their 35-14 cushion that UCO cut to 35-17 on Seth Hiddink’s 32-yard field goal to open the third quarter, with Nelson’s 39-yard pass to Clark the big play in that drive.
Birmingham offset another Forchu touchdown run with a two-yard scoring burst on a fourth-down play, but the Lions scored again late in the third quarter to take a big 49-24 lead.
The Bronchos didn’t go away quietly, sandwiching Birmingham’s fourth score of the night — this one from two yards out — and Nelson’s 69-yard scoring pass to Clark around a Missouri Southern field goal to pull within 52-38 in the waning minutes.
UCO forced a quick punt and got the ball back with less than three minutes left, but Nelson’s fourth-down pass from the Lion 27 fell incomplete with a minute remaining to end any hopes of a miracle comeback.