KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Among a contingency of contenders for the NCAA Division II Football Playoffs, Missouri Western walks as if it fits right in.
Over the past two seasons, eight teams that were present at Wednesday’s MIAA Media Day at the Kauffman Foundation Center had claimed a win in the postseason. Missouri Western joined that list in December with a victory in the Live United Bowl.
“It was really just a little taste of really where our program’s going and where we wanna go as a team,” senior center Hayden Eatinger said.
In the 2018 regular season finale, Western thought its season had ended at 6-5 with a 27-23 loss to Lindenwood, allowing the GLVC-bound Lions to end their MIAA stay by scoring 21-unanswered points.
Then the Live United Bowl called, and the Griffons responded with a 30-25 win against Southern Arkansas, making their first postseason trip since 2012 count.
It was Western’s first seven-win campaign since 2014.
“That was momentum for us. We’re gonna ride that out the rest of the season,” senior linebacker Anthony Williams said.
Missouri Western showed flashes in 2018, often being hindered by a lack of a pass offense and self-inflicted penalties. Led by an MVP performance by running back James Bailey Jr. in the bowl game, the Griffons saw what was possible.
“Every single one of the kids on our team right now have committed everything, their energy and passion to this team. When you do that and you don’t see results, it’s hard to continue to do that,” third-year head coach Matt Williamson said. “We’ve seen the results, so they got a little taste of some postseason play.
“It’s like blood in a shark. They don’t want the bowl game anymore.”
Western didn’t lose back-to-back games all season, highlighted by beating No. 5 Fort Hays State and outscoring Emporia State 22-0 in the final quarter of a 42-28 win that could’ve sunk the season with four games to play.
“We wanna have that nine-, 10-win season and be able to play for a national championship,” Eatinger said. “I think with the people we have coming back and being able to keep the train trucking, we’ll be all right.”
The Griffons, picked seventh in the MIAA coaches and media polls, have established their brand in Williamson’s first two seasons of playing physical defense and controlling the trenches.
With no plans of changing in 2019, the mentality has been instilled dating back to December in Texarkana, Arkansas.
“It doesn’t matter who we line up against. It don’t matter if we play in a parking lot or not, let’s go. We’re gonna compete, we’re gonna play physical, and they’re gonna know who they played when they leave,” Williamson said.
“We’re gonna put a great product out on the field. You’re gonna enjoy it.”