By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
A 69-yard pick-six by junior safety Kobe Cummings early in the third quarter sparked the Missouri Western football team in its home opener against Fort Hays State on Thursday.
The pick-six tied the game at 17, and the Griffons (1-1) would go onto score 28 third quarter points, including another defensive touchdown, in a 38-31 win over the Tigers at Spratt Stadium.
"That pick-six in the second half really got us going," said Western quarterback and sophomore Anthony Vespo. "Defense really picked us up and it was a good team win overall."
In the first home game since Nov. 9, 2019, the Griffons forced four turnovers to overcome three red zone fumbles of their own. Missouri Western scored 24 points off of turnovers.
“The defense made plays," sophomore receiver and Benton alum Cooper Burton said. "Then, as an offense, we got an opportunity to take over and capitalize on those plays and we did. Made a stand."
Fort Hays State (0-2) had the ball and a 24-17 lead deep in their own territory in the middle of the third quarter after picking up a Missouri Western fumble. Two plays later, the Tigers coughed it up themselves, and junior safety Dominic Chapa returned it for a Griffon touchdown to tie the game at 24.
On the ensuing Hays drive, sophomore safety Tristan Davis came up with an interception, setting up freshman running back Shen Butler Lawson Jr.'s second rushing touchdown of the game to put Missouri Western ahead 31-24.
The Griffons rushed for over 200 yards as a team.
"We were able to move the ball and move the chains," Missouri Western head coach Matt Williamson said. "(Offense) was a little choppy in the first half, and then we were able to start moving some things. But, that pick-six by Kobe Cummings was just a game changer."
After another Hays possession stalled, the Griffons started their next drive inside their own 20. The first and only play of that drive was an 86- yard touchdown strike from sophomore quarterback Anthony Vespo to Burton.
By that point, the Griffons had scored 21 unanswered and led 38-24 entering the fourth.
"We're going to be tough to stop if we can limit the turnovers and stop shooting ourselves in the foot," Vespo said. "But, we're a young team and we'll get that stuff taken care of, and we'll be back next week."
Fort Hays State put together a drive and scored midway through the fourth, but Lawson Jr. helped the Griffons burn some clock late and salt the game away.
The three red zone turnovers were the biggest black eye for Missouri Western in this one. Had the Griffons turned any or all of those drives into points, the game could have been put away much sooner.
But after coming up short due to self-inflicted errors at Central Oklahoma last week, Coach Williamson was grateful to see his team find a way to win and make enough big plays in the end.
"That's something to learn from," Williamson said of the turnovers. "Obviously it's great to win, but man you have to get better every week. Everyone else is, and we're going to try and continue to level up as we go through this. So, onto next week."
Missouri Western has now beat Fort Hays State in each of the last three meetings and are now 13-2 against the Tigers since 2006.
Missouri Western stays home to play Emporia State on Saturday, Sept. 18. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. The game will be carried live on the Griffon Sports Network (680 AM, 95.3 FM) with coverage starting at 5 p.m.
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