In a chess match of a football game, dominated by two running backs, it was a kicker who made the final move.
With the score tied at 6-6 and six seconds left in the game against Southwest Missouri State, senior placekicker Matt Lange trotted onto the Smith Stadium turf for his third field goal attempt.
“Coming down to the end of the game, I knew it was going to come down to a kick, so I was preparing myself on the sideline,” Lange said. “I was thinking to myself, ‘This is my chance.'”
The kick split the uprights and sailed into the night as the Western sideline erupted in pandemonium.
Coach David Elson knew his team (4-2, 1-1 Gateway Conference) was fortunate to escape with a 9-6 victory in which the offense did not score a touchdown for the second time in three weeks.
“We are guaranteed 11 games, and hopefully you will get four more after that,” Elson said. “You figure in there, that there will be some tough football games.”
Lange said he was redeemed after missing two field goals in last week’s 33-28 loss at Western Illinois. His confidence was shaken, he said, but after making a 37-yard attempt in the first quarter, he was ready to go.
“I was proud of him bouncing back,” Elson said. “He kicked the game-winning field goal after missing a few last week. We are going to stick with him and I’m glad we did.”
The Toppers looked to be in trouble after a three-yard Cody Pratt touchdown run gave the Bears (3-3, 0-2) a 6-3 lead with 9:06 remaining in the first half. SMS missed the extra point attempt.
The touchdown was the first the Western defense has surrendered at home this season, and it marked the first home deficit the Toppers have faced at Smith Stadium in 2003.
The Topper offense was rolling in its first possession of the second half, but a Justin Haddix interception ended the drive deep in Bear territory.
Later in the quarter, a 12-play, 44-yard drive ended with a 42-yard Lange field goal that tied the game at 6-6.
Haddix finished 7-of-15 for 76 yards, but it was running back Lerron Moore who carried the Western offense.
For the second time in as many weeks, Moore ran for a career-high 192 yards on 32 carries, topping last week’s high of 136 at Western Illinois.
“We definitely did not play how we wanted to, but a win is a win,” Moore said. “It was all a mental thing. We came out pretty flat at first. Then coach got on us.”
Entering the game, the Western-run defense was ranked ninth nationally, allowing only 91.2 yards per contest. But the Bear offensive line opened gaping holes that Pratt burst through on his way to a 141-yard game. The Bears finished with 172 total rushing yards.
“They have a great running team and we knew that,” Elson said. “They ran the ball more effectively than we wanted them to.”
Elson credited his defense for keeping the Bears out of the endzone after the second quarter Pratt touchdown.
“Six points is great for our defense,” Elson said. “The defense did a great job coming up with plays in the second half and especially in the fourth quarter.”
One of the reasons Elson was impressed with the running game was because the usually strong offensive line was hit with the injury bug. Senior guard Joe Washington sat out with a concussion. Senior tackle Daniel Withrow missed time with a shoulder injury.
Western did not avoid more injuries during Saturday’s game. Junior fullback Maurice Bradley re-aggravated a shoulder injury and junior strong safety Antonio Thomas broke his hand.
Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]