WARRENSBURG — No. 15 Central Missouri survived a flat first quarter to secure its sixth straight win, beating Central Oklahoma 44-26 on Saturday, Oct. 12, at Walton Stadium.
The Bronchos came out of the gates hot, converting on third down with a 40-yard pass to the UCM 40. The Mules defense kept UCO out of the end zone as the Bronchos had to settle for a 32-yard field goal.
Junior Koby Wilkerson fumbled the ensuing kickoff, handing the ball back to Central Oklahoma just 17 yards from the end zone.
The Mules defense came through again, keeping Central Oklahoma to just a 26-yard field goal and a 6-0 lead.
Central Missouri’s first drive of the afternoon ended in Bronchos defensive back Kolby Underwood picking off quarterback Brook Bolles at the UCM 39 yard line.
“Not the start that we were looking for,” Central Missouri head coach Jim Svoboda said. “We’ve learned not to panic early in the game.”
The Mules defense appeared in good position to keep the turnover from costing anything, backing the Bronchos up into a third and 17 following two false start penalties, but UCO converted with a long pass into UCM territory.
“We’ve got to get better on third and long,” Svoboda said. “We gave up too many first downs in that scenario. That’s a little bit deflating when you do that. You get them right where you want them … and you give up a first down.”
Central Oklahoma was just nine of 20 on third down, but five of those conversions came needing nine yards or more.
The Bronchos pulled out the wide receiver pass following the third down picke up with Taj Griffin, a transfer from the University of Oregon, hauling in a 31-yard pass from Johnny Bizzell to make it 13-0, a score that would stand through the end of the first quarter.
“It could have been worse, obviously,” Svoboda said. “We held them to two field goals and a touchdown. If that is three touchdowns, it’s probably a little bit different.”
Last season, UCO jumped out to a 23-0 lead in the first quarter, leading to a 33-26 win. The Bronchos had won the previous two meetings after the Mules won the first five contests between the two schools.
“We’ve had a rivalry with them for the last three years,” Bolles said. “They’ve kind of had our number the last two years.”
Central Missouri finally got on the board with a nine-play, 77-yard drive that ended with junior Devante Turner bullying his way into the end zone from three yards out.
A highlight reel touchdown run by Zach Davidson later in the quarter gave the Mules the lead for the first time in the contest, a lead that would stand the remainder of the contest.
The junior hauled in a crossing route near the Central Missouri sideline, juked out a Broncho defender before sprinting past the rest of the Central Oklahoma defense for a 52-yard score and a 14-13 lead.
Sophomore kicker Chris Diddle knocked through a 28-yard field goal with four minutes left in the half to make it a 17-13 UCM lead, which would stay until halftime.
Coming out of the break, Central Missouri extended its lead with a 10-yard pass from Bolles to Drew Slager for a 23-13 advantage following a missed point after attempt.
The Bronchos kept the game close, driving 76 yards on three plays, scoring with a 49-yard touchdown pass to make it 23-20.
That’d be the closest the Bronchos would get in the second half as Central Missouri rattled off three scores to stake out a 44-20 lead.
It was the usual suspects doing the offensive damage for the Mules. Bolles connected with Davidson for the second time on the afternoon, this time from 34 yards out.
The Mules defense got the ball back for the offense twice following the touchdown. Koleson Crane secured an interception to give the offense another crack at it.
The Mules couldn’t make anything of the pick, going three-and-out.
“Offensively, when we did get a takeaway, we didn’t convert on it,” Svoboda said. “You really have to take advantage of that.”
Crane was the man on the spot to keep the ball with Central Missouri, recovering the muffed punt by the Bronchos at midfield.
“It didn’t look like he made a ‘peter’ call (an indication for the return team to avoid the kick), so I think one of the players on UCO thought it hit another UCO player, so they all kind of scrambled towards it. ...I just dove on top of it and tried to get it out of there.”
The extra possession turned into Turner’s second score of the night on a two-yard run off a direct snap.
Turner tacked on the final score of the afternoon with an 87-yard punt return for a score.
“I saw a big gap and I took it,” Turner said.
With winds swirling throughout the afternoon, Turner was advised just to fair catch the punt, but the junior saw an opportunity and took it for his first special teams score of the season.
Central Oklahoma would add a late score to cut into the Mules lead, but was unable to overcome the three-straight scores by UCM.
The Mules tallied 543 yards of total offense, running for 242.
Turner accounted for 190 yards of rushing on 26 carries. Wilkerson racked up 33 yards on four carries in the first quarter before exiting with an injury and did not return.
“When Koby went out, it just gave me more fuel,” Turner said.
This is the fifth time this season the Mules have gone over 200-yards rushing.
“I thought we really just out-physical-ed the other team. We took their will away and in the end, that’s what won it for us,” Svoboda said. “When you can line up and just kick them around running the ball, that’s a deflating thing for the defense and off of that, it also opens up things in terms of your play action where you typically get your shots.”
Bolles completed 17 of 32 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns. Davidson was the team’s leading receiver with five catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
With the win, Central Missouri moves to 6-0 for the first time since 2002 and for just the sixth time in program history.
Central Missouri will hit the road in week seven, traveling to Emporia, Kansas, to face Emporia State at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19.