By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
JOPLIN - Missouri Western built a 17-point lead in the first half, and an 18-point lead in the second half.
Only for Missouri Southern to wipe that away late. That, and the Griffons' playoff hopes.
The Lions (5-6, 4-6 MIAA) scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and in overtime, and then scored the walk-off touchdown to beat Missouri Western, 47-41, in double OT at Fred G. Hughes Stadium in Joplin Saturday.
Southern, who hadn't beaten Missouri Western since 2012, never had the lead in regulation.
The game was tied 7-7 at the end of the first quarter, but Missouri Western (8-3, 7-3 MIAA) scored 17 unanswered to go up 24-7 with 3:02 left in the second quarter.
Southern, however, punched in a touchdown with only 13 seconds left before halftime, making it a 24-13 ballgame at the break.
The Lions got the ball to start the second half, and drove 59 yards on 10 plays, but missed a 25-yard field goal.
Meanwhile, the Griffons went up 31-13 on Seth Cromwell's third rushing touchdown of the day with 4:36 left in the third.
Meanwhile, in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, Henderson State (9-2) just upset Ouachita Baptist, 31-27, in the Battle of the Ravine, handing Super Region Three's No. 6 seed Tigers a loss. It was the help the Griffons needed.
It was all going according to plan. Missouri Southern, however, had other plans.
The Lions marched 68 yards on five plays, scoring a touchdown with three minutes left in the third, cutting the Griffons' lead to 31-20 at the start of the fourth.
Even then, things were looking alright for Western.
The Griffons were driving deep in Lion territory to start the fourth quarter, but a holding penalty stalled the drive. Western settled for a 29-yard field goal from Cody Watson to go up 34-20 with 11:59 remaining.
Time was starting to wane for Missouri Southern, but they kept moving.
The Lions were driving, but Missouri Western's Brayden Wright picked off a pass from MoSo quarterback Luke Sampson, giving the Griffons a first down on their own 42-yard line with seven minutes left.
Three plays later, however, Missoui Western quarterback Armani Edden threw an interception which was returned 53 yards the other way by Southern's Ian McSwain.
MoSo missed a second PAT, and still the Griffons led 34-26 with 6:49 to go.
The Lions got the ball back, down eight, with 4:32 to go, but that drive stalled after a penalty and the Griffons got it back, up eight, with 2:56 remaining.
Missouri Western achieved one first down, but Missouri Southern still had all three timeouts. The Lions called their final timeout with 43 seconds left in regulation.
It was 4th-and-3 for Western at their own 38. Evan Williams shot off a beautiful punt, pinning MoSo on their own 19. With 32 seconds left. And no timeouts.
Luke Sampson didn't blink. The MoSo quarterback went 5-for-5 down the field. 12 yards. Then 17. Then 21. Then 15.
With a first down at the Western 16, and seven seconds left, Sampson rifled a pass down the middle to the end zone, caught by Deontay Campbell.
Sampson threw another pass, this one to Ezekiel Lang, for a successful two-point conversion, stunningly tying the game at 34-34 with three seconds left, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
Southern went 81 yards on seven plays in just 29 seconds to tie it.
Missouri Western won the coin toss in overtime, and elected to go on defense first. Southern scored a touchdown in just four plays to go up 41-34 - their first lead.
After converting on 4th-and-14, Western scored an OT touchdown when Edden found Jake Berrey from 12 yards out. 41-41, headed to the second OT.
The Griffons went on offense to start the second OT, and had second-and-goal at the seven. Edden was tackled for a loss of four on second down. On third-and-goal, Edden got hit as he threw, and his pass was intercepted by Nick Kruse.
MoSo had to start the next drive at the Western 40, due to an excessive celebration penalty. But for Sampson, that was not an issue.
He connected with Jaedon Stoshak on a 36-yard pass, setting up first-and-goal at the four.
The Lions scored on the next play to win it, sending Western, in a stunned silence, back to the busses.
Missouri Southern outgained Western in total yards in the fourth quarter 141-56, including 136-8 through the air.
In the first half, MoSo had only two offensive plays that went for 15 yards or more.
After halftime, the Lions had 12 of them. Fourteen total plays of 15-plus yards. Six that went for 20 or more.
Sampson went 24-of-36 for 374 yards and four touchdowns. Edden was 16-of-26 for Western for 140 yards, a score and a season-high tying three picks.
The Griffons won time of possession 36:53 - 23:07. They were also called on nine penalties for 73 yards.
Western's run game worked well, as they outgained the Lions in rushing yards 280-28. The Lions, however, outgained Western through the air 374-140.
Cromwell rushed for 170 yards on 32 carries, scoring three times.
The Griffons end the regular season at 8-3 overall- their best mark since 2019. But, their first loss in Joplin since 2010 will cost them a playoff bid.
Missouri Western will, in all likelihood, receive one of the eight bowl bids available for Division II teams. More information will come out on that in the next few days.
Tyler Fenwick interview
Full audio broadcast
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.