Defense keys 21-14 win over Central Missouri

Joplin, Mo. -- The Missouri Southern defense picked up three sacks and held the Central Missouri offense to just 200 yards, defeating the Mules 21-14 on Family Weekend at Fred G. Hughes Stadium. 

The Lions (4-1, 4-1 MIAA) had 427 yards rushing and 69 yards passing for 496 yards on the evening. It's the first time the Lions had defeated Central Missouri since the 2006 season when Southern won 31-26 in Joplin. 

Central (2-3, 1-3 MIAA) had just 26 yards on the ground and 174 through the air as the Southern defense held the Mules to 246 yards fewer than the team averages. 

After the Lions went four and out on their first drive, Central capitalized and scored first. Quarterback Hayden Hawk hooked up with Ronrei Lloyd for 54 yards to start the drive and Hawk hit Sean Gorman for six yards to put the Mules on top 7-0. 

Southern answered right back and Jay McDowell capped off a five-play, 80-yard drive with a two-yard rushing touchdown to tie the game with 6:52 left in the first quarter. 

The Lions forced a Central punt on their next possession, and less than two minutes into the second quarter, JJ Jones took a pitch and ran two yards to put Southern up 14-7 with 13:33 left. 

Another punt from the Mules on their next possession gave the Lions the ball on the Central 46-yard line and Southern would put points on the board again as Jones this time took a three-yard dive and made the score 21-7, Lions. Neither team would score as the halftime score stood 21-7. 

Both teams went scoreless in the third quarter as the Southern defense shined in the second half. A sack from Gatlin Ridgway on the Mules' first possession forced a punt, and the Lions held strong and forced a turnover on downs on Central's next possession. 

Another strong defensive stand forced a Central punt shortly into the fourth quarter and the Lions started to march down field on their possession. However, Central's Ricky Spratley ripped the ball from the hands of Giresse Forchu and returned the ball five yards to the Southern 40-yard line setting up a Mules scoring opportunity. 

Central would convert as Hawk completed a seven-yard scoring pass to Ray Harris to cut the Lions' lead to just seven (21-14) with 8:09 left in the game. 

A McDowell pass was intercepted by the Mules' Zach Leinbaugh on the Lions' next possession, but the defense again held strong and forced a four and out, giving the Lions the ball with 2:37 left on the clock. McDowell wasted little time as the quarterback scampered for a 49-yard gain on the first play of the drive to put the Lions on the Mules' 45 yard line. Chris Barnwell added a run of 22 yards on the drive and the Lions ran out the clock for the win. 

McDowell rushed for 225 yards on the night, becoming the first Southern quarterback to rush for over 200 yards since Josh Chapman had 246 against Missouri-Rolla in 2002. He also had 69 yards on 5-10 passing. Barnwell rushed for 65 yards, while Jones had two scores on the ground. 

Defensively Ridgway led the way with eight tackles, a sack, a pass break up and three quarterback hurries. Elijah Swen and Paco Varol each had sacks, while Swen forced a fumble and added four pass break ups and a hurry. 

The Lions will be back in action next weekend when Southern heads out of the MIAA to take on South Dakota Mines on the road. Kickoff from Rapid City, SD will be slated for 2 pm central time, 1 pm mountain time.