Lions prepare for showdown against the Mules

Jacob Park throwing the ball against Northwest Missouri State on Sept. 21

Photo by Jennah Cunningham

Jacob Park throwing the ball against Northwest Missouri State on Sept. 21

Mitch Carney

The Lions traveled last weekend to Fort Hays State University to take on the Tigers, who were the 2018 MIAA champions. The Lions would lose the game 44-3 due to the Tigers getting a four- touchdown performance from their quarterback Chance Fuller. The Lions offense also struggled to move the ball as the team only had 64 yards rushing, which would be their lowest so far this season. The Lions starting quarterback, senior Jacob Park also had only 173 yards passing and threw four interceptions, keeping the offense off the field. 

“There are so many things that go into that,” said head coach Jeff Sims addressing the Lions high interception rate. “At the end of the day, Jacob Park goes out there and throws a pass and there’s an interception everybody in America is going to say ‘Jacob Park did this and Jacob Park did that.’ There are so many things that go into that, but he’s the one who’s got to take the blame. I will tell you that the product of our 10 interceptions is 5% Jacob Park and 95% everybody else.”

Although the Lions allowed 44 points to the Tigers, Sims was still encouraged with what he saID as he thought the defense has made big strides since the beginning of the season.

“I really do see progress in our defense,” said Sims. “Its frustrating to see our defense improving, but still allow 44 points. The defense is improving though, Coach Hader is a really good coach and its improving.”

The Lions did force three turnovers which is something that defensive coordinator Josh Hader makes a priority every game. He has said in the past that winning the turnover game will help the Lions win games in the future. The defense was led by senior defensive back John Ejizu who had an interception and a fumble recovery and was third on the team with seven tackles. The Lions also had another good performance out of sophomore linebacker Richard Jordan Jr., who had six tackles and a sack. This would be the second game in a row that Jordan has gotten a sack, as he has been one of the Lions most consistent players on the defense this year. 

“Every week we focus on three things which are getting three takeaways, execution and discipline, and our gaps and pursuit,” said freshman linebacker Colton Winder. “We have gotten better every week in all three of those things. We have gotten one more takeaway in every game. In week one we had zero then every week after that we got one more. That is a big improvement and everyone is flying to the ball and getting better with their execution.”

The Lions’ next game will be Saturday, Oct. 5, as Southern will host the University of Central Missouri. The Mules come into Joplin undefeated at 4-0 and ranked as the 17th best team in the nation. A win for the Lions would mean a five-game losing streak to the Mules. It would also be the second win in the last 13 tries against the Mules, as the last time the Lions beat the Mules back in 2013. 

The Mules enter the game with one of the nations best offenses scoring more than 50 points per game. The offensive production can be thanked due to their play at quarterback. The Mules’ quarterback Brook Bolles has already 14 touchdowns on the season and 1,150 yards passing, while their running back Koby Wilkerson has five touchdowns on the season. It will be a point of emphasis for the Lions to help contain both Bolles and Wilkerson to give Southern a chance to win the game. 

“Well, we are changing things up on defense including a couple of new schemes. Really it’s the same we have been doing,” said Winder. “There is always excitement every week, but we will need to contain big plays because we have given up a lot of big plays the past few weeks so that will be the big thing this week. 

The Lions will host the game at the Fred G. Hughes Stadium at 6 p.m.