Lions to take on Griffons in Homecoming game

Jacob W. Brower

Missouri Southern’s match-up this Saturday against the Missouri Western State College Griffons features two teams looking to go over .500 heading into the second half of the season.

The Lions and Griffons are both 2-2 overall and 1-1 in MIAA play. Southern leads the series 19-15, but has not beaten Missouri Western since 1998 and was trounced 33-6 last year in St. Joseph by the eventual co-conference champions.

Both teams head into the game coming off of losses to conference foes. Southern lost a 40-33 heartbreaker to then-No. 15 Central Missouri State last Saturday, while MWSC was defeated 33-30 by Emporia (Kan.) State.

The game appears to be a classic match-up of high-powered offense versus smashmouth defense. The Lions are seventh in the nation and second in the MIAA only to Pittsburg (Kan.) State in total offense with 513 yards per game. They are also fourth in the nation and second in the conference to Missouri-Rolla in passing offense with 328.8 yards per game through the air.

The Griffons feature the sixth-stingiest defense in the MIAA, allowing only 333 yards and 25.5 points per game. The Lions have scored 37.8 points per game, the third highest in the MIAA.

“I’m amazed at what (the Griffons) have been able to do,” Lions head coach John Ware said. “This is going to be the best defensive line we’ve faced this year.”

The Griffons defense is led by junior linebacker Tony Matzke and sophomore defensive end Michael Cobbins. Matzke’s 38 tackles are third in the MIAA and Cobbins is tied for second in the conference with five tackles for losses.

The Lions will once again rely on the strong right arm of freshman quarterback Nathan Emert in hopes of neutralizing the Griffons’ front seven. Emert is first in the MIAA and fourth in the nation in total offense, accounting for 339.5 yards per game.

His favorite target has been senior wide receiver DeMarcus Mathes, whose 30 receptions lead the MIAA. He is second in the conference and seventh in the nation in receiving yards with 471.

With three of the Lions’ receivers listed on the injury report, Mathes will likely see a good share of balls coming his way on Saturday. His backup, Dustin Bromley, is doubtful for this week’s game and starter Tyson Basore will likely be a game-time decision. Backup Colin Bado is listed on the injury report as well, but offensive coordinator Keeth Matheny said he will likely suit up for Saturday’s game.

“Last week, DeMarcus played 90 snaps and some other guys stepped up as well,” Matheny said. “We’re going to do as much as we need to make sure our passing game is effective this week.”

To open up the passing game, Matheny will be giving sophomore running back Wentric Williams a good amount of carries against the Griffons. Williams leads the MIAA and is seventh in the nation with 533 rushing yards.

“We want to give Wentric the rock as much as we can,” Matheny said. “We’ve been really pleased with the way we’ve been able to get the running game established. The easiest pass for us to complete is a handoff to the running back.”

The Griffons are fourth in the conference in total offense with 437.5 yards per game while the Lions are seventh in total defense, yielding 386.8 yards per game. MWSC is led by senior quarterback Michael Cooper, who has completed 53 percent of his passes for 825 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions.

MWSC running back Nick Richardson is fifth in the conference with 351 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns, but will likely split carries with sophomore Jamison Burns, who is listed as the starter for Saturday’s game.

Southern’s defense is led by linebacker Atiba Bradley, who has recorded 27 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He shares the conference lead in forced fumbles (two) with Southern cornerback Moses Manga and two other players.

Junior free safety Blake Martin leads the Lions with 29 tackles, 17 of which were unassisted. Freshman defensive end B.J. Russow has 3.5 sacks on the season, while junior linebacker Joe Bettasso has recorded three sacks.