Senior Day 2019 has an opportunity to mean much more looking back at the past and glancing forward to the future at Missouri Western.
For the first time since 2012, the Griffons (7-2) are in the playoff hunt with the beasts of the MIAA in the rear view. With wins in the past two weeks, Missouri Western would earn the 300th victory in the program’s history.
Each of the seniors have a dignified role in helping remake the Griffons as an MIAA contender. From five senior offensive linemen to one of the program’s best quarterbacks and linebackers, their final home game has the possibility of defining Missouri Western’s turning point.
“It means a lot. This group of seniors is a special class to me. It’s people I’ve been with during the beginning,” senior right tackle Isaiah Colbert said. “Everyone knows the five O-linemen are seniors. It’s a big time thing for us.”
The season’s final stretch brings a 1 p.m. home contest Saturday against Nebraska-Kearney (5-4) before a trip to Lincoln (1-8) in the season finale.
Graduate transfer running back Markel Smith was the first player to ring the bell after snapping a five-game home losing skid last month. In his lone year with the Griffons he leads the MIAA in rushing touchdowns with 12, and he has a chance for the final toll of the bell to mean more football.
“It’s my last opportunity to play football. I chose a good place. Couldn’t have picked a better place,” Smith said. “The record speaks for itself. We got off to a slow start this season, but as the season progressed just came together as a family, as a whole.”
Nebraska-Kearney’s trajectory is even more dramatic than the handoff from Jerry Partridge to Matt Williamson. UNK had been a doormat in the MIAA, despite notching a win in Williamson’s first game in charge in Kearney, Nebraska.
The Lopers, much like the Griffons, are a few plays from looking at the season in a different light. In Week 2, the Lopers led Central Oklahoma by 10 before giving up 21 unanswered in the fourth quarter in a five-point loss.
UNK beat Northwest before a six-point loss to Fort Hays State and a defeat on a Hail Mary to Central Missouri a week ago.
As is usually the case in the MIAA, it will be a battle to run the football with possession when two of the top four rushing teams meet at Spratt Stadium.
“They definitely do what they do in the box. They run a lot of odd front, a lot of even front, but they know how to control the box,” Colbert said. “It’s gonna be whoever can control the line of scrimmage.”
The top rushing team in the MIAA, UNK has three ball carriers who average better than 60 yards per game with at least seven touchdowns. The Lopers, coming off back-to-back losses, also rank second in rush defense.
For the Griffons, senior quarterback Wyatt Steigerwald is expected to be ready to go after leaving the third quarter of last week’s win against Pittsburg State. He threw two touchdowns and two interceptions, ending a streak of more than 100 passes without a turnover. He has 25 touchdowns and five interceptions on the year.
Western has five players with at least three touchdown receptions, with the tight ends dominating the day the past four weeks. Cam Grandy and Luke Vang have combined for nine touchdowns on the season.
While the path back to the Division II playoffs includes needed outside help for the Griffons, currently No. 8 and one spot outside of the postseason in the Super Region Three rankings, a six-game winning streak has Western in position.
“We know how to win, we know what we’re gonna do, we know what it takes to win,” Williamson said. “As long as you follow the trail and continue to follow the path, great things are gonna continue to happen.”