Lions hunting Gorillas as Miner’s Bowl IX looms

Hobie Brown

With its best start since 2002, the Missouri Southern football Lions must wrestle the Mid-AmericanIntercollegiate Athletics Association’s 500-pound Gorilla this weekend.

Southern (3-0) faces Pittsburg State University (2-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Carnie Smith Stadium in the U.S. Cellular Miner’s Bowl IX.

After spending the past four years watching his Northwest Missouri State team compete against PSU during the regular season at Arrowhead Stadium, first-year Lions head coach Bart Tatum now faces the Gorillas on their home field.

“I am very familiar with the surroundings of Carnie Smith Stadium,” Tatum said. “I know what their fans are about. It is a phenomenal place to play a college football game.”

The Lions haven’t had a football victory over the Gorillas since 1993; the year coach Jon Lantz coached the team to a 9-1 record and the MIAA title.

Seasoned Miner’s Bowl coaches Lantz and PSUs Chuck Broyles really don’t like using the term rivalry when discussing this game.

“I have a hard time saying the word rivalry. Certainly the Miner’s Bowl is an intense rivalry because of the close proximity of the schools,” Broyles said.

“It is very difficult to get even with Pitt State,” Lantz said. “It’s not the tradition of the program. Pitt puts more money into their program. For the community, football is king.”

Although the Miner’s Bowl added US Cellular as its corporate sponsor in 1998, this marks the 19th year the Miner’s Bowl has been played.

“Sponsorship makes the Miner’s Bowl important because both schools gain an opportunity to profit from the gate.” Broyles said.

The last time the Lions entered the Miner’s Bowl unblemished was 2002, when the week-five meeting with PSU sent the team into a losing streak. The Gorillas are 2-1 after their loss last week to Missouri Western State University

The Lions (3-0) are undefeated after downing Southwest Baptist University 42-21. Sophmore tailback Ronnell Newman scored three touchdowns while running for 155 yards on 26 carries. Senior cornerback Moses Manga made eight tackles (six solos), an interception, a fumble recovery and a pass break-up. Newman and Manga earned MIAA players of the week awards.

“With the (season) records close going into the Miners Bowl, the game draws more attention,” Tatum said. “Being 3-0 is great for team morale. You could be overconfident, but overconfidence is not an issue with the team.

“They understand where we are in the developmental process.”

Lantz’s philosophy for the program is similar to this process.

“The first battle is not to beat Pitt State; it is to be competitive,” he said. “The teams have to compare themselves to the top-ten teams in the nation.”

“Neither of the teams that we have played non-conference are going to compare to the programs of Pitt State or Northwest Missouri State University. But they were good teams and they helped to prepare us for conference play,” Tatum said.

Not lost behind the work up of the game is the continued focus on the team goals.

“We set goals as far as our non-conference schedule is concerned,” Tatum said. “We were undefeated in those two games, and we are currently undefeated at home, which is another goal of the team.”

“We want to beat Pitt State and win the conference, that’s two of our goals as a team” said sophomore tight end Matt Farrell. “We want to win every game. It should be the goal of every team.”

Our defensive line has to step up to stop the run,” said senior nose tackle Elbert Johnson. “[PSU running back] Germaine Race is a beast. He’s a power runner.

In facing “beasts” like Race, Tatum said the work begins before the game’s first whistle is blown.

“The real preparation comes from the students,” he said. “We have a good recruiting class under our belt. We put another good recruiting class with them this year. We have to mentally prepare our students the best we can because they have to anticipate the speed of the game is going to be different than what they have seen so far,” Tatum said.

Whether or not the Miner’s Bowl is considered a rivalry, Tatum has people talking.

“Southern is in a scary situation,” Broyles said. “They have someone in there who can get the job done, bring in some recruits, and do a good job.”

“Coach Tatum can get the program turned around,” Lantz said. “He is on course to making the Lions an upper-division team again.”

The resurgence of faith in the Lions football program can be attributed not just to Tatum, but also to the players.

“Coach Tatum has a good offensive mind and a good coach when it comes to scheming, Broyles said. “Southern has been scoring a lot of points and returned many of their players from last year.”

Lantz agrees.

“Bart has the team running well,” Lantz said. “He is making a real difference.”