The spotlight was supposed to be on the 11 Lincoln seniors playing their final game at Dwight T. Reed Stadium. Central Oklahoma's Joshua Birmingham didn't like that idea.
The junior running back almost single-handedly carried the Bronchos to a 56-25 victory against the Blue Tigers on Saturday's Senior Day.
Birmingham rushed 20 times for 272 yards and four touchdowns, returned a kickoff 83 yards for a score and caught three passes for 40 yards.
"Good running back," Lincoln head coach Mike Jones said of Birmingham. "We knew he was a good football player. Coming into the game we said we had to stop the run, and we didn't. We didn't execute our defense like we're supposed to. We didn't get in our running lanes like we were supposed to, and because of that a good football player is going to make good football plays, and that's what he did."
What makes his performance even more impressive was the fact he racked up 204 yards rushing not even three minutes into the second quarter and didn't even play a snap the final 13 minutes of the game.
"We're a gap-control defense," Jones said. "We had guys that were jumping around blocks, guys that weren't getting where they were supposed to, and that running back is a good running back. When he sees a hole he's going to hit it. He made a couple guys miss and you can see why he's a good running back."
It really never was a ball game, as Central Oklahoma jumped out to a 28-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
"Lackluster," Jones said of his team's performance. "We didn't come out ready to play. This team beat a nationally ranked team (Washburn) and we weren't prepared. We didn't practice well. This was the first week we regressed on the practice field, and it showed on the football field."
Christian Bobo opened the scoring with a 13-yard run with 3:24 to go in the first quarter before Birmingham rushed for touchdowns on three of Central Oklahoma's next four drives. His touchdown carries went for 57, 65 and 10 yards, spanning the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second quarter.
Lincoln finally got on the scoreboard late in the first half, which sparked a string of three touchdowns in the span of 23 seconds.
Jacob Morris hit Keenan Smith for a 5-yard touchdown pass with 1:24 to go before halftime, but the PAT was blocked, making the score 28-6.
Birmingham then returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards for a score, pushing the Bronchos' lead to 35-6 with 1:12 to go. Birmingham's 395 all-purpose yards shattered Central Oklahoma's school record of 312, set in 1994 by Joe Aska against Langston.
Lincoln's Morris Henderson did Birmingham one better, taking the next kickoff 93 yards to the end zone with 1:01 to play. A failed 2-point conversion left the score at 35-12 at halftime.
Henderson opened the second half with a 42-yard touchdown run, making the score 35-18 with 13:44 to go in the third quarter. Central Oklahoma responded immediately with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Adrian Nelson to Tucker Holland to make it 42-18.
Birmingham added a 5-yard rushing touchdown and Bobo found the end zone from 37 yards out to make it 56-18. Lincoln's Donald Malone made the score a little more respectable with a 4-yard run with 3:26 to play in the game. Michael Ashley added the extra point.
Central Oklahoma racked up a whopping 585 yards of total offense, with 365 of them coming on the ground.
"We weren't physical enough," Jones said. "They knocked us off the football on both sides of the ball. We lost it in the trenches."
Lincoln managed 335 total yards, but only 119 of those came in the first half when there was still a glimmer of hope.
"(The offense was) sporadic," Jones said. "We didn't execute what we needed to do, we dropped too many footballs, we had some protection problems, route running (was a problem), it was all kinds of different things. There is plenty of blame to pass around, starting with myself. I didn't have my guys prepared."
Lincoln (1-8, 1-8 Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association) travels to play Northeastern State at 2 p.m. Saturday. Central Oklahoma improves to 2-6 overall and in the MIAA.
"You can learn something from every game, win or loss, if you can go in with the right mindset," Jones said. "It's a learning experience if we allow it to be a learning experience. If it's something where we're going to do the same things every week it's not a learning experience, we're just playing bad football. Which one is it? That's what we're going to find out next week when we get to practice."