Fighting to reach .500

Breon+Matlock+of+Missouri+Southern+tackles+Austin+Daniel+of+Pitt+State.+Missouri+Southern+played+Pitt+State+at+home+on+Friday+night.

Kristen Stacy | The Chart

Breon Matlock of Missouri Southern tackles Austin Daniel of Pitt State. Missouri Southern played Pitt State at home on Friday night.

Ian Taylor, Sports Writer

Winning season on the line for Southern

The last road contest of the year presents another challenge for a Southern (4-5, 4-5 MIAA) team looking to even its record yet again in 2014. This is the last chance for a year with an inkling of a third straight winning season as a possibility, one that would send this group of seniors out on an unprecedented roll.

“It’s a two-game season with a chance to have a winning season, which would be three in a row, something that has not been done in awhile, “ said head coach Daryl Daye. “Winning for these seniors, winning for a third consecutive season, winning for our community and winning for our University.”

Saturday, at Lewis Field Stadium in Hays, Kan., the Lions face off against the Fort Hays Tigers (5-4, 5-4 MIAA).

This is an interesting team that, while ranking near the bottom of the conference in major offensive categories, has still compiled five wins by relying on a defense that sits at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Hays ranks fifth in the MIAA in rushing defense (150.9 yards per game) and holds the fourth position in total defense (366.2 yards per game) with a well-established front seven helping them to a three-game winning streak earlier this year that ended with a bang.

The signature win for the Tigers was a 7-6 victory over the Lions last opponent, then No. 8 Pittsburg State, a team that just defeated Southern by 31 points.

But as the Lions prepare for another bounce-back opportunity, they know the timetable is undoubtedly now or never.

“Just gotta come off the mat, got knocked down, brush yourself off and get back in the fight,” said Daye. “Two weeks left and let’s finish it out.”

This past weekend saw a dramatic shift in the Lions’ offensive philosophy, with quarterback Scott Lathrop airing the ball out 17 times for 211 yards and a touchdown. That’s a far cry from the normal single-digit attempt range for the Southern signal caller, helping the Lions get out to an early 3-0 lead.

Still, it’s a season low rushing total of only 81 yards for a unit that has dominated the MIAA on the ground over the past three seasons, and three turnovers kept the Lions firmly planted in their own way for the duration of the contest.

With only two games remaining before the end of the season, Southern focuses on what they can control: effort, intensity, grit and Lions football. For newcomers to the team this season and for those who will arrive the next, the momentum for 2015 begins now.

“Finishing this season with a winning record is the number one goal for out team at this point,” said junior defensive lineman Rolandeis Toliver. “Not only do we want to carry that momentum into next year, but we want to send our seniors out winners.”

The Lions and Tigers kick off at 2 p.m. in Fort Hays, Kan.