EDMOND, Okla. — Shamar Griffith had just a handful of plays to regroup.
Standing deep in place of the injured Trey Vaval, Missouri Western’s junior running back fumbled away a kickoff return and allowed Central Oklahoma to pull within a single score.
Three snaps later, Griffith took a swing pass from Wyatt Steigerwald 70 yards to ice the contest and hand the Griffons a 50-43 win Saturday at Wantland Stadium.
“It was an amazing pass,” said Griffith, who finished with 264 all-purpose yards. “There was a little anger in that, too, because I’ve gotta make up for what I did. It was all my fault, can’t blame nobody else.”
Steigerwald completed 15 of 25 passes for 252 yards and five scores, bringing his season total to 20 TDs and just three interceptions.
“He’s coming into his own,” head coach Matt Williamson said. “It’s really special to see. He’s throwing it all over the place, stepping up in the pocket and make very mature decisions. Just the type of guy you want back there.”
Griffith was the most effective back of the day, rushing 14 times for 107 yards. He also caught two passes for 74 yards and returned four kickoffs for 83 yards with Vaval, the nation’s leading returner, out due to an injury.
“We tell our kids if something bad happens, you can’t control anything after it’s already happened,” Williamson said. “The next thing you do is step up and make something new happen. Wyatt threw a perfect ball, Shamar caught it and took off. It was a great make-up for the mistake he had.”
Markel Smith added 93 yards on 19 carries, rushing in for two scores to bring his MIAA-leading total to 11.
Central Oklahoma (2-5) snagged momentum early as Chandler Garrett took a quarterback run 59 yards before finding Amonte Phillips for a 16-yard touchdown.
Steigerwald responded with a 19-yard strike to Cam Grandy, who caught two touchdowns on the day.
Garrett and Smith traded rushing scores before a UCO field goal early in the second quarter gave the Bronchos a 17-14 lead.
Western (5-2) would score 21 unanswered before the half to take control.
“This team over here is really resilient,” Grandy said. “We’re not gonna take no for an answer. We just keep pushing the ball down people’s throats and it pays off.”
Devon Holmes turned a screen pass into a 37-yard score before a second rushing score by Smith following a blocked field goal courtesy of Arnold Crayton. Luke Vang hauled in a 19-yard strike in the final minute for a 35-17 lead.
“He’s throwing the ball really well. We get frustrated when we don’t complete those passes,” Vang said. “You see the difference in the offense when we have that ability to throw the ball all over the field. The arm strength of Wyatt and his ability to read the defense changes the game. Without him we’d be in a much better place.”
After a scoreless third quarter, Steigerwald answered a UCO touchdown with an 11-yard pass to Grandy to push the lead to 42-23. Garrett then threw his second touchdown to Dustin Basks, who finished with 10 catches for 204 yards. UCO pulled within one score after Griffith’s fumble led to a 1-yard rushing score by Garrett.
Griffith answered the call with a 70-yard catch-and-run to extend the lead back to 14 on a hot route called by his quarterback.
Garrett threw for 299 yards, three of his four scores going to Basks. Garrett also ran for 155 yards.
The win marks Western’s first four-game win streak and best start through seven games since 2013. It’s also the program’s eighth straight win away from Spratt Stadium.
“We’re definitely not done,” Grandy said. “It’s gonna be really nice to be back at home and ring that bell again.”
Western will host Emporia (2-5) at 1 p.m. Saturday for its Hall of Fame Game.