By ALEX AGUEROS
(WARRENSBURG, Mo.) – In a game as sloppy and hard-fought as only season openers can be, Central Missouri dropped a nine-point lead twice Thursday in a loss to No. 6 ranked Missouri Western by a score of 26-23.
The final blow for the Mules came on a 5-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Reggie Jordan with 14 seconds left in the game.
After the game, head coach Jim Svoboda recapped Missouri Western’s final drive.
“That’s what your conference champions do. They find a way to finish the deal,” Svoboda said. “It wasn’t pretty, and their quarterback made some plays down the stretch. He did a great job and you have to give credit to them.”
Central Missouri struck first on an 11-play drive leading to a field goal. The Mules added to their lead on a miraculous 73-yard catch-and-run touchdown to junior wide receiver Anthony Kirkwood. After taking a 9-0 lead, Central’s offense stalled, and failed to score again until the fourth quarter.
The offense saw a steady dose of freshman running back Ray Harris, who put up 40 yards on 18 carries. Junior running back LaVance Taylor, who started the game, was seen with crutches in the third quarter. Taylor’s day was done after gaining 31 yards on 9 carries. Svoboda commented on Taylor’s injury.
“He turned his ankle,” Svoboda said. “I don’t think it’s anything serious, but he has a pretty good sprain.”
The Mules defense seemingly bottled an explosive Griffon attack all game, even scoring on a pick-six from redshirt freshman Tevin Tamer. UCM did not have an interception returned for a touchdown all of last season.
Despite winning the possession battle by nearly 10 minutes, Central’s tough defense finally faltered in the fourth quarter. Two separate touchdown passes for more than 50 yards finally stole the lead from Central.
Central Missouri’s offense would put together an impressive 14-play touchdown drive late in the fourth, capping it off with a touchdown pass to junior tight end Rosine Cullen.
Missouri Western would answer with a 12-play drive of their own, aided by costly UCM penalties, which accounted for 20 of their 62 total yards on the drive. The eventual Griffon touchdown put the Mules down 23-26 as the clock ran down.
Next Saturday, Central Missouri travels to Maryville, Mo., to take on the Northwest Missouri Bobcats. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.