By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
EDMOND, OK - The Missouri Western football team fell behind 24-7 at halftime before staging a comeback and getting back to within four points in the fourth quarter.
The Griffons, down four, had three possessions within the final 12 minutes of the game, but failed to score on any of them, and Central Oklahoma escaped with a 24-20 victory at Wantland Stadium on Thursday night.
It was Missouri Western's first game that counted toward their official record in 635 days. Head coach Matt Williamson was hopeful his team would come out excited and ready to play. Instead, a choppy first half offensively put the Griffons behind the 8-ball early.
"I tried to go into the game and you know I thought they'd be just amped," Williamson said of his players, "and ready to go, because they hadn't played for a long time. I was like, 'Hey, take a deep breath. Let's go out and play our football.' And we didn't. Just made tons of mistakes. Everything looked choppy."
Missouri Western failed to score on its opening drive, but the Bronchos (1-0) marched 65 yards on 10 plays on their opening possession to take a 7-0 lead with 8:26 to go in the first quarter.
On the Griffons' second drive, receiver Traveon James fumbled after a short reception. UCO recovered and were in the red zone, but settled for a 36-yard field goal to take a 10-0 lead after the first.
Missouri Western (0-1) responded early in the second. After a short UCO punt, freshman running back Brandon Hall took off on a 41-yard touchdown run to put the Griffons on the board with 12:09 left in the second quarter.
On the very next drive, UCO scored after just four plays. Junior quarterback and TCU transfer Stephon Brown took off on a 45-yard rush down the sideline for a touchdown to the put the Bronchos ahead 17-7.
Missouri Western's Thomas Kopcho missed a 36-yard field goal on the Griffons' ensuing drive, and UCO took advantage.
The Bronchos orchestrated a seven-play, 80-yard drive which ended in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Brown to receiver Markiese King, which put UCO ahead 24-7 at halftime.
Brown finished with 189 yards passing and a touchdown. He also rushed for 126 yards and a score.
"We just couldn't put anything together," Williamson said. "We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot. Penalties, crazy stuff, special teams were terrible. We did some things better later, but we just didn't put any pieces of the puzzle together in the first half. It was bad."
Missouri Western responded later in the third quarter. After a couple of stalled drives by both teams, the Griffons put together a 14-play, 66-yard series which ended with a one-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Shen Butler-Lawson Jr. on a 4th-and-goal situation.
The Griffon defense pitched another three-and-out, and the offense immediately went back to work. After a 31-yard catch by freshman receiver Hezekiah Trotter, freshman running back Brison Cobbins scored on a three-yard run to make the score 24-20.
Kopcho, who missed a field goal in the first half, missed the ensuing point after.
The Missouri Western defense came up with three stops in the fourth quarter, and the Griffon offense had three chances in the final quarter to score and grab a late lead, but they only achieved one first down in the final 12 minutes of the game.
The Griffons' last gasp was a 4th and 20 at their own 10-yard line with just over a minute left. Under pressure, sophomore quarterback Anthony Vespo threw the ball into traffic, where it was intercepted, sealing the win for UCO.
"Very disappointing," Williamson said. "I mean, that whole locker room. I was talking to them. You know, hats off to UCO. They played well and beat us and stuff like that, but I know we're a way better football team than what we put on the field today."
Sophomore receiver and Benton graduate Cooper Burton finished with a career-high seven catches for 91 yards. He also had 23 yards rushing. Hall finished with 99 all-purpose yards offensively.
Vespo was 13-of-28 through the air for 169 yards and an interception.
Missouri Western comes back for their home opener next Thursday against Fort Hays State. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. The game will be carried live on the Griffon Sports Network (680 AM, 95.3 FM) with coverage starting at 6 p.m.
While Williamson was proud of the fight his team showed in the second half, he's eager for he and his team to get back to work and fix the mistakes made in Thursday's season opener.
"We'll make the corrections when we come back and watch the film and do all of the stuff like that," Williamson said. "We're going to make sure they know exactly why, and they'll see exactly why, on film, what they produced and why we ended up on the wrong side of the column."
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