You are now reading a new feature for The Bridge, as this semester will be the first that The Bridge has covered Lindenwood University football. The Lindenwood Lions are adopted the moniker of St. Louis’s football team. Playing in NCAA Division 2 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference along with other St. Louis Area school McKendree University, the Lions are the highest level of football in the St. Louis area. Thousands fill the bleachers at Hunter Stadium on the Lindenwood Campus in St. Charles to root on the Lions week in and week out every fall.
In their home opener to the 2019 season, Lindenwood hosted the Mustangs from Midwestern State University. Despite the Midwestern name, the school is located in Wichita Falls, Texas, where they play in the Lone Star Conference. In last week’s action, Midwestern State easily handled Northwestern State in Louisiana, 33-7. Meanwhile, the Lions of Lindenwood traveled to Eastern Washington University to face not just a team in a higher division, but a Division 1 Football Championship Subdivision power in the Eagles of Eastern Washington. Lindenwood battled, but ultimately fell 59-31.
A wonderful September night for football welcomed the Lions and their supporters back to Hunter Stadium for the first NCAA football action in St. Charles this year. Despite the nice conditions, the Lions looked uncomfortable early. A quick (two minutes and fifty-something seconds) touchdown drive led by Midwestern State QB Zach Purcell opened the game’s action, and put Lindenwood on the back foot early. A quick three and out drive from the home team gave Midwestern State the ball back in less than two minutes, and running back Quinton Childs made Lindenwood pay dearly for it with a 46 yard touchdown run, sweeping out to the right sideline and darting past would-be tacklers. MSU was up 14-0 before many fans had went to the concessions for popcorn and soda.
Lindenwood’s first scoring opportunity came at the end of a long drive that spanned the end of the first quarter and start of the second. Quarterback Cade Brister rushed for a few first downs and got his team in scoring position, but a missed field goal kept Lindenwood off the board for the time being. On the other side of the football, the LU defense stepped up in the second quarter, and the MSU offense that found it quite easy to score in the first quarter was suddenly flummoxed. With the defense holding, the offense eventually found their footing. Brister found his tight end target, Erik Henneman, for Lindenwood’s first home touchdown of the 2019 campaign.
A Lions offense that was at times lacking creativity in the first half started the second half with what is definitely the play of the game. A trick play in football can make or break a game. Everything has to go just right for it to work, but when it does, a trick play like Lindenwood’s end-around option pass materializes. Wideout Najee Jackson caught Cade Brister’s pitch back to him, and instead of making a move upfield, he dropped back and threw a bomb to fellow receiver Payton Rose, who evaded the last MSU defender for a touchdown that tied the game at 14.
Tragically for the home fans, Lindenwood’s momentum was short lived. A Lions field goal blocked by MSU corner Khalil Finley kept them from seizing a lead. The Mustangs stormed down the field for a quick touchdown, and the next Lions drive ended with Cade Brister having the ball knocked out of his hands and returned nearly sixty yards the other direction by Mustang defensive lineman Zach Edwards. The short field that return gave them led to another score, with LU sputtering late in the third, trailing 28-14.
Penalties and mistakes were a hallmark of this encounter, which is bound to happen in these early season non-conference college football games. Both teams had penalty trouble, twelve for the Mustangs and 9 for the Lions, but the Mustang penalties were almost always personal fouls, fifteen yard penalties, which gave Lindenwood more chances than they frankly deserved. A key moment that kept LU in the game late was a punt that from this reporter’s perspective looked like it wasn’t touched by the returner for MSU, but the referee ruled it so, and the ball deemed live and scooped up by an enterprising Lion tackler.
This play switched the field for the Lindenwood team that desperately needed it, and they took advantage, Cade Brister finding Payton Rose for the sophomore receiver’s second touchdown of the day and fourth of the season. MSU killed some clock, but their drive stalled and they were forced to punt, giving Lindenwood the opportunity to tie the game. If I have to be critical of one aspect of the Lions attack today, it was the kicking game. Missed and blocked field goals were the reason they were down a touchdown instead of a single point in the first place. When Lindenwood scored a touchdown, I immediately thought about the extra point. Sure enough, the point after was blocked, and LU found themselves down by a single point in the late stages.
Midwestern State was more than content to play conservatively. Keeping the ball, trying to work time off the clock, but were forced to punt, giving Lindenwood a final drive and opportunity to win the ballgame. As stated earlier in this recap, penalties were the Achilles heel of the visitors from Texas. Pass interference pushed the drive into MSU territory, and Lions kicker Brett Garner was practicing his routine on the sideline, looking to redeem himself and making the game winning kick. In anticlimactic fashion, a fumbled snap was recovered by the Mustangs, who went on to kneel out the clock and win the game, 28-27.
With the loss, the Lions fall to 0-2, although they may feel they should have had this one if they had done one or two things differently. Next Saturday the Lions are back in action, hosting the William Jewell College Cardinals, who are 1-1 this season after losing to West Texas A&M this week.
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