Lincoln closing football season by hosting No. 7-ranked Central Missouri

The Lincoln Blue Tigers have their final opportunity to avoid their fourth straight winless season at noon today at Dwight T. Reed Stadium.

But the toughest opponent of the season awaits the Blue Tigers, as the No. 7 Central Missouri Mules will be on the other sideline.

“These guys are extremely talented,” Lincoln coach Jermaine Gales said. “In my opinion, they are the best team in the conference. 

“It’s going to be a tough row to hoe this weekend.”

Lincoln (0-10) is treating this contest as a final measuring stick for how far away they are from one of the top teams in the country.

“We need to see what a high-powered offense, a high-powered defense looks like,” Gales said. “On our schedule, we saved the best for last. We need to let this be a litmus test of what it takes. How strong do we need to be? How strong are these guys? What is it going to take from an execution standpoint? The things we see is a top-notch program coming in here and we need to emulate that.”

The Mules (9-1) enter with one of the top offenses in the country, if not the best.

Central Missouri is third in Division II in scoring offense (48.9 points per game), first in yards per game (584.3) and first in passing yards per contest (416.6).

The Mules are a motivated group headed into today’s game with playoff implications on the line. Central Missouri is currently ranked fourth in its regional rankings and has one final chance to bolster its resumé.

“They are a championship-caliber team striving for a championship,” Gales said. “They are trying to get the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, they are trying to host a playoff game.”

The Mules are led by the top-producing quarterback in the country in junior Zach Zebrowski (6-foot-2, 208 pounds).

Zebrowski, a transfer from Southern Illinois in his first season with Central Missouri, leads all of Division II with 46 touchdown passes and 3,941 passing yards and has thrown just five interceptions on the season.

“He’s a good football player,” Gales said. “The ball jumps off his hands, he’s able to spin it and put it in places where not everybody can. He’s able to make plays.”

Zebrowski has plenty of help around him, as well.

Sophomore running back Marcellous Hawkins (5-11, 210) leads the Mules’ ground attack with 139 rushes for 946 yards and 15 touchdowns, and senior wide receiver Arkell Smith (6-1, 194) is fourth in Division II with 1,124 receiving yards and is tied for fourth in the country with 14 touchdowns to go along with 80 receptions.

Sophomore wide receiver Jack Pospisil (5-7, 171) has added 50 catches for 595 yards and six scores, junior wideout Demarcus Gregory (6-2, 205) has 43 catches for 472 yards and four scores and sophomore wide receiver Price Morgan (5-11, 180) has chipped in 41 catches for 383 yards and six touchdowns.

“He’s got some big-time receivers and a big-time running back,” Gales said. “And most importantly, he’s got an offensive line that’s near impenetrable.”

Central Missouri has come up with big plays on defense to help its offense all season.

The Mules give up 27.3 points per game but have thrived in creating turnovers with 24 on the season -- 20 interceptions and four fumble recoveries.

“Their defense is extremely fast,” Gales said. “… They are going to get the ball on the ground and they are aggressive with it. They try to create turnovers. I don’t think it’s an opportunistic team, I think they are being coached up very well on how to take the ball away.”

Central Missouri has been led by senior defensive back Wyryor Noil (6-0, 185) with five interceptions, one fumble recovery and four tackles for loss.

Junior defensive back Noah Blair (6-3, 191) and senior Jaden Dawson (6-1, 193) have each added three interceptions.

“When you look at them on film, it’s a little deceptive,” Gales said. “They play a front that is going to make you believe that you have running lanes and throwing lanes, but when the rubber hits the road those holes are going to close up quickly. They fly around to the ball.”

Today will also be Senior Day for Lincoln.

The Blue Tigers want to send their five seniors out on a high note.

“Those guys need to be able to feel the love from everybody else on the squad knowing that one day it is going to be time for them to make a departure,” Gales said. “It is important that these guys go out together.”