Special to The Sun
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. —
No. 7-ranked Missouri Western scored two touchdowns in the final minute after turning back Central Oklahoma’s gritty fourth-quarter rally and handed the Bronchos a 45-23 setback here Saturday night.
UCO trailed 31-7 early in the final period before reeling off 16 unanswered points – getting two touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions – to pull within 31-23 with 1:35 remaining, but the Griffons scored on a 30-yard fourth-down touchdown run and 42-yard interception return to arrange a deceiving final score.
The Bronchos fell to 1-4 on the year and in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association while taking on its third top-10 team of the season. MWSU improved to 5-0 overall and 4-0 in the league.
“We fought hard the whole game and did a good job giving ourselves a chance at the end, but it just wasn’t enough,” UCO coach Nick Bobeck said. “I thought we did some good things on both sides of the ball against a really good football team, but we just weren’t consistent enough on either side.”
The Bronchos finished with 345 yards, with 240 of that coming in the second half. Adrian Nelson completed 25-of-45 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown, while Joshua Birmingham rushed for 80 yards and two scores on 18 carries in addition to catching six passes for 53 yards.
The Griffons ended up with 467 yards, including 243 rushing. Michael Hill, the leading rusher in NCAA Division II, had 143 yards in 22 attempts and it was his 30-yard TD burst with 1:08 remaining that clinched the win.
Devoris Dozier had 10 tackles and Jarrett Tryon eight to help lead the defense.
UCO appeared out of the game after falling behind 31-7 early in the fourth quarter, but Dozier forced and recovered a fumble at the Broncho 44 to ignite the comeback.
Nelson had completions of nine, 10 and 15 yards in an eight-play 46-yard drive that also saw Christian Bobo rumble for 17 yards to the MWSU five before Birmingham scored two plays later on a four-yard dash through the left side.
Nelson found Leroy Travis with the two-point conversion pass to pull UCO within 31-16 with 6:31 left to play and Andy Navarro had a three-yard tackle for loss to key a defensive stand that forced another quick MWSU punt.
This time the Bronchos went 69 yards in 10 plays, with Nelson hitting 6-of-7 passes for 68 yards to spark the march. His 21-yard dart to Travis was the big play and Nelson capped it with an eight-yard TD toss to Marquis Walters, who caught the ball at the three and fought his way into the end zone.
Again UCO went for two and again Nelson converted, this time taking it in himself around the right side to make it 31-23 with just 1:35 remaining.
The Bronchos had a chance at recovering the onside kick, but it went out of bounds and minutes later Hill broke through for a 30-yard TD against a stacked-up defensive front on a fourth-and-one play to make it 38-23.
MWSU then added to that with Michael Jordan’s 42-yard interception return with just two seconds left to play.
UCO opened the game with a promising drive, getting runs of 11 and 13 yards from Birmingham in moving from its own 25-yard-line to the Griffon 26 before Nelson’s third-and-five pass from there was intercepted and returned to the MWSU 39.
The Bronchos got the ball right back when Hill fumbled on a first down run that Dozier recovered at the 43, but UCO failed to convert on that opportunity and ended up turning the ball over on downs at the 34.
Missouri Western followed with the first of three straight touchdown drives to take a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter and that was the halftime deficit as the Bronchos were outgained 252-105, netting just 21 yards on 15 second-quarter plays.
The Griffons made it 28-0 on their opening possession of the second half when quarterback Travis Partridge broke loose for a 45-yard TD dash up the middle.
UCO’s defense responded to that score by forcing two straight MWSU punts, getting a sack from Herbert Byrd and broken up pass by Antonio Jenkins to key one series, and the Bronchos finally got on the scoreboard with a 49-yard scoring drive after a short punt.
Nelson did most of the work, hitting Leroy Travis with a 19-yard strike and rambling 17 yards on a keeper to get UCO to the MWSU six before Birmingham broke through an opening on the left side from there for the touchdown at the 8:17 mark to get within 28-7.
It was the 34th TD of Birmingham’s career, moving the junior standout into fifth place on the school’s all-time scoring list.
The Griffons upped their lead to 31-7 early in the fourth period with a 45-yard field goal.
UCO’s schedule gauntlet continues next Saturday when the Bronchos host No. 11 Northwest Missouri at 1 p.m.