Southern Seniors play one final time

Junior corner Matrice Buckley tackles Pitt State sophomore Kyle Swartz on Nov. 15, 2014, at Fred G Hughes Stadium during the Miners Bowl game. The Lions scored the first three points of the game but lost the game 41-10.

Kristen Stacy | The Chart

Junior corner Matrice Buckley tackles Pitt State sophomore Kyle Swartz on Nov. 15, 2014, at Fred G Hughes Stadium during the Miners Bowl game. The Lions scored the first three points of the game but lost the game 41-10.

Ian Taylor, Sports Editor

One game is left for Southern (4-6, 4-6 MIAA) following last weekend’s loss to Fort Hays State. The defeat definitively keeps Southern from a third straight winning season, but with the opportunity for a victorious send-off still on the horizon, the Lions have but one focus.

“The biggest thing is [playing] for our seniors,” said head coach Daryl Daye. “We want to pay tribute to them — those guys have been through a lot here.”

This weekend brings a familiar foe to Fred G. Hughes Stadium as the Lions welcome the Griffons of Missouri Western (6-4, 6-4 MIAA). Southern has a long history with the team; the Lions hold the overall series advantage 23-21, with the most recent victory going the way of the Griffons in a 35-21 game here just a season ago.

While the records this season might not show it, both teams present a stiff challenge.

Southern, who in the latter stages of the season, has developed a taste for passing yards and presents a dual threat offensive attack, while the Griffons enter the weekend firmly planted in the middle of the conference in standing as well as statistics.

The Lions, even with a mild decline, still rank atop the MIAA in rushing with 279 yards per game, a number good enough to place them No. 10 nationally. Those numbers combine with a conference rank of second in third down conversion percentage, and the third position in time of possession to tell the tale of the Lions’ success.

But, while the numbers for Missouri Western may underwhelm some, the Lions know that football is about determination, not ink on paper.

“I think with any team, it’s play makers,” said Daye. “Somebody has to step up and make that play, at that time, and that is key at any level.”

Against Fort Hays State, the Lions came out of the locker room flat, falling victim to early turnover problems that put Southern behind 21-7 at the half.

Southern came out with a vengeance after half-time, scoring 34 second-half points helped by this week’s installment of the passing attack, most notably a season-long 83-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Scott Lathrop to junior wide receiver Anthony Cannon, a score that brought the Southern deficit to just seven right before the end of the third quarter.

But, as the Lions scored to come closer, Fort Hays State scored to cement their lead, and when the clock read zeros, the Lions were defeated 49-41.

This weekend is the final contest for 19 seniors on the Lions’ roster. It’s an end to collegiate athletics for all and a final football hurrah for most, but as a team finishes a less than stellar season, their coach finds ways to highlight the things that are most important.

“Some of the guys have been here four years, been here when the program was down … had some highs, two top-ten wins,” said Daye. “Lost a coach and dealt with that, it has been a tough road. But I tell you what, 18 seniors and all of them are graduating … what a great class.”

The Lions and Griffons finish off the 2014 season at Fred G. Hughes Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.