BY SCOTT MANDZIARA | SPORTS EDITOR
The University of Central Oklahoma rushed for 251 yards as the Bronchos defeated the Lions 35-14 in the first football game of the season Thursday night.
“They decided they were going to run the ball, and we couldn’t match them right there,” Lindenwood head coach Jed Stugart said.
It was the first time since 2008 that Lindenwood has fallen in a season opener. That loss came against MidAmerica Nazarene, a team that Stugart was coaching at the time.
In Thursday night’s game, played in Edmond, Oklahoma, the Bronchos got on the board first after two 36-yard completions, one resulting in a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead. The Lions responded with a touchdown of their own with 18 seconds to play in the first quarter. The score came on a 9-yard touchdown pass by junior quarterback Najee Jackson to senior wide receiver Deantrell Prince. Senior running back Calen Campbell led the way with 42 yards rushing on the scoring drive.
The Lion offense started the second quarter strong when Jackson found junior wide receiver Justin Smith twice for gains of more than 15 yards, and senior running back Shakeem Wharton followed that with a 23-yard rush for a touchdown. All systems were go for the Lindenwood defense until a 4th and 5 conversion kept a drive alive for UCO. The Bronchos then scored a touchdown to tie the game at 14.
A poor kickoff return by Lindenwood then left the Lions deep in their territory and forced them to punt from their own 1-yard line. This provided UCO with outstanding field position, and the Bronchos took advantage with a drive that ended on a 6-yard touchdown reception by senior receiver Josh Crockett. This gave the Bronchos a 21-14 lead at the end of the first half.
The Bronchos got their revenge on the Lions in the second half, outscoring them 14-0. Last year, in the season opener, the Lions outscored Central Oklahoma 36-6 in the second half.
Jackson, in his first start as a Lindenwood Lion, completed 15 of 30 pass attempts for 142 passing yards and one touchdown.
For the Bronchos, Crockett had four catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns.
Stugart said the game let him know what the Lions needed to work on.
“The little things,” Stugart said. “We’re going to focus on tackling and stopping third-down conversions this upcoming week in practice.”