Oct. 17—It was around the 4:20-mark of the fourth quarter that Missouri Southern quarterback Dawson Herl made a promise to linebacker Richard Jordan Jr.
"Dawson came to the sideline and told me, 'You give me a stop and we'll go win this thing for you,'" Jordan said. "I shook his hand. I knew he meant it."
Jordan and the MSSU defense did their part. Then Dawson and the offense followed suit.
After forcing a UCM punt late in a one-point game, the Lions marched 66 yards in two minutes and got a 27-yard game-winning field goal by Nick Williams as the final seconds expired to defeat Central Missouri 30-28 on Saturday night at Fred G. Hughes Stadium.
The MIAA triumph lifted Southern to 3-4 on the season, clinching the program's first three-win season since 2014. It also marked the Lions' first home win since 2018 as well as their first win over Central Missouri since 2013.
"I'm still a little overwhelmed a little bit," first-year MSSU head coach Atiba Bradley said, laughing. "I'm just extremely proud of our guys, proud of our coaching staff. The way they fight, the way they coach, the way they carry themselves."
The game-winning drive was made possible by Southern's stout defense in the final 8:52 of play. The Mules (2-5) were forced to punt on three consecutive drives that resulted in just two yards in 10 plays.
The MSSU offense stalled on back-to-back possessions late in the fourth quarter before it found its rhythm at the opportune time.
The final UCM punt was fair caught by Southern at the Lions' 24-yard line with 2:03 to play. MSSU then marched to the UCM 7 in a matter of 12 plays to set up Williams for the decisive field goal attempt with two seconds remaining.
Williams, who connected on kicks of 31 and 47 yards earlier in the game, calmly split the uprights for the first game-winning field goal of his football career.
"You go in with confidence, obviously," Williams said. "There's a little bit of jitters. ... But I have literally the best holder in Division II and the best snapper in Division II. That helps my confidence even more."
"Nick the Stick," Herl said, referring to Williams. "We have all of the faith in the world in him."
The back-and-forth affair saw MSSU take a 20-14 lead into halftime before Central scored two straight touchdowns in the second half to go up 28-20 with 12:38 showing in the fourth quarter.
Southern trimmed the deficit to a point, 28-27, after Taylor Thomas hauled in a 48-yard touchdown pass from Herl with just under nine minutes remaining.
"Ever since I got this job, it's been tremendous support from the community, tremendous support from the campus," Bradley said. "Just great support. You want to give (the home crowd) something. You want to give them something to be proud of. ... We did that tonight."
Every indication in the opening minutes suggested the game was destined to be a shootout.
In a first quarter that resulted in 31 total points, the Lions came away with one field goal and a pair of touchdowns while the Mules logged a pair of touchdowns.
Southern's first touchdown came on a 56-yard run by Josh Mercer. Then with 1:14 to play in the opening stanza, running back Nathan Glades plunged into the end zone on an 8-yard run that put MSSU up 17-14.
The first-quarter scoring started with a 31-yard field goal by Williams.
UCM threatened to take a lead right before halftime as it marched into Southern territory with under a minute remaining in the second quarter.
But that threat was quickly stymied thanks to Southern defensive back Malachi Broadnax, who intercepted a UCM pass to give the Lions possession of the football at their own 26.
Seven plays and 44 yards later, Williams booted a 47-yard field goal to widen Southern's lead to 20-14 at the game's intermission.
Carthage High School was well-represented in Saturday's game as MSSU linebacker Colton Winder and UCM wide receiver Arkell Smith put together key performances.
Winder, a sophomore, finished with six tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack that resulted in a 10-yard loss for UCM. He also recorded his second interception of the season midway through the third quarter as the Mules looked to add to a one-point lead in MSSU territory.
Smith finished with five catches for 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His first score went 37 yards and gave UCM a 14-10 advantage in the first quarter. His second was a 22-yard reception that gave the Mules their largest lead of the game, 28-20, with 12:38 remaining in the final quarter.
Glades, a Joplin High School graduate, was also a key contributor as he amassed 136 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
Southern finished with 554 yards of total offense while limiting UCM to 387 yards.
Herl completed 15 of 37 passes, tossing one touchdown as well as one interception. His top target was Brian Boyd Jr., who caught four passes for 63 yards.
Thomas, competing in his first game of the season for the Lions, had a 48-yard touchdown reception as well as 65 rushing yards on seven carries.
The Southern defense was paced by Jordan, who finished with eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Winder and Jakwan Allen had one interception apiece.
Southern hits the road next Saturday to take on Emporia State (3-4) at 2 p.m. in Emporia, Kan.
Contact Jared Porter on Twitter at @JaredRyanPorter.