St. Joseph, Mo. -- A pair of huge defensive plays helped solidify a 31-30 upset win over fourth ranked Missouri Western as the Lions defeated the Griffons today in St. Joesph.
Southern (5-2, 4-2 MIAA) defeats a ranked opponent for the first time since the 2009 season when the Lions defeated then 12th ranked Missouri Western in St. Joseph. That game featured a fourth-quarter comeback that saw Southern score 21 unanswered points. It is the third win in the last four games for Southern over Western. The win today was the highest-ranked D-2 opponent Southern has ever defeated. It ties the record for the highest-ranked opponent all-time as the Lions defeated No. 4 ranked Missouri Western (NAIA Poll) in 1983.
The Griffons (6-1, 5-1 MIAA) lose for the first time this season despite having nearly 120 more yards in offense than the Lions.
Neither team scored on both of their opening possessions and after the Lions punted on their second trip down the field, Western started the scoring with a five-yard touchdown pass from Travis Partridge to Reggie Jordan. Partridge also completed a 23-yard pass and ran for 13-yards on the same drive.
Southern answered back on its next possession as the Lions used a bit of trickery. Facing fourth and eight from the Western 27, punter Stewart Quinn completed a pass to Gatlin Ridgway for the first down to keep the drive alive. The Lions would cap off the 11-play drive with a one-yard touchdown run by Kellen Cox to tie the game at seven.
The Griffons didn't take long to answer and they added a bit of trickery of their own when Jordan took a snap on a fake punt and ran 86 yards to pay dirt to put Western up 14-7.
The Lions were driving on their next possession and facing a third and 20, Cox's pass was incomplete, but a personal foul penalty on Western gave the Lions a first down and kept the drive going. A 26-yard field goal from Dallas Herndon cut the Western lead to 14-10.
Taylor Anderson hit the first of three field goals on the day to add to the Western lead and give the Griffons a 17-10 lead with 1:46 left in the half. What happened next would be a sign of things to come for the Lions as Southern took the kickoff on the Western 25-yard line and drove down the field. Bryant Venson would have a 20-yard run and a catch for 27-yards on the very next play during the drive and Ne'Ronte Threatt capped off the half with a two-yard touchdown run, tying the game at 17 going into the locker room.
Another personal foul from the Western defense allowed the Lions' first drive of the second half to be extended and Venson again made the Griffons pay, rushing for a 38-yard touchdown to give Southern a 24-17 lead with 7:14 left in the third.
Partridge connected with Kyle Knox for a 61-yard pass and then rushed for a one-yard touchdown to tie the game at 24 and two field goals from Anderson (53 and 29-yards) gave the Griffons a 30-24 lead with 4:34 left in the game.
And then the rains came. The Lions were driving, and had just picked up a first down after a 12-yard rush from Venson, before a 56-minute weather delay sent the teams to the locker room. Coming out of the delay, Southern ate up the Western defense and drove the length of the field and a one-yard dive from JJ Jones capped off an eight play drive that gave Southern a 31-30 lead with two minutes left on the clock.
From there, the Lions' defense took control of the game. With the ball on the Southern 38-yard line, Partridge fumbled and Aaron Hall recovered, giving the Lions the ball back with 57 seconds to play. Southern was forced to punt, giving the Griffons the ball back on their own 29-yard line with 42 seconds left, but Brian Rodgers picked off Partridge's first pass and the Lions kneeled on the win.
Southern had 237 yards on the ground and 137 in the air for 374 in the game. Western had 493 yards overall, but four penalties for a big 52 yards doomed the Griffons. The Lions controlled the ball, with a 34-25 minute time of possession advantage.
Venson had five carries for 91 yards and a touchdown in the game. Cox and Threatt both rushed for a score, while Cox also had 107 yards through the air on 7-14 passing. Jones had the Lions' other score.
Defensively, Hall led the Lions with eight tackles and a fumble recovery, while Demond Horsley had seven stops of his own. Brandon Williams had six stops and two behind the line of scrimmage, while Rodgers had five tackles, three for a loss, a sack and a huge interception to end the game.
The Lions will be back in action next Saturday, playing host to seventh ranked Northwest Missouri at 2 pm in Fred G. Hughes Stadium.