The Lincoln Blue Tigers are hungry to break their 33-game losing streak.
The Blue Tigers will get another chance today when they host the Missouri Southern Lions in a 2 p.m. matchup at Dwight T. Reed Stadium.
“Every week is a new opportunity to try and break the streak, and when I talk about the streak, I mean let’s get our first win since I’ve been here at Lincoln,” Blue Tigers coach Jermaine Gales said. “We are going to keep trying to accomplish that goal. Once we accomplish that goal, then we can push forward to the next goal.
“But until then, every week is a brand-new opportunity and we are going to attack it like it’s attainable.”
Missouri Southern (3-4) enters today’s matchup on a three-game losing streak and is coming off a 31-21 loss last Saturday against then-No. 3 Pittsburg State.
Lincoln is viewing today’s game as a measuring-stick game for what the rest of the season may look like.
“Coach Atiba (Bradley) over there, he’s got that program going in the right direction,” Gales said. “They started off hot, they beat a couple other high-caliber opponents. We are looking at this game as a really good litmus test for what we have coming down the stretch.”
Today’s game will mark the homecoming for a pair of local athletes on Missouri Southern’s roster: redshirt freshmen David Bethune (Jefferson City High School) and Wilbert Phillips (Capital City High School).
Bethune has appeared in all seven games, mostly a return specialist, but does have three catches for 73 yards and a touchdown at wide receiver. Phillips has appeared in six of the Lions’ seven games on the offensive line.
“(Bradley) has got some good recruits, he had a couple of solid recruiting classes,” Gales said. “He’s in our back yard recruiting. He has a big offensive tackle in Wilbert Phillips and David Bethune is a dynamic athlete, one from Capital City and one from J.C. We would’ve loved to have them.”
The Lions are averaging 26.3 points per game this season, accumulating an average of 115.4 rushing yards and 229.6 passing yards per contest.
Lincoln has been preparing for Missouri Southern to use a lot of multiple-tight-end formations.
The Blue Tigers plan on using speed to make up for the size difference.
“We have to use speed to our advantage and we have to play gap-sound football,” Gales said. “At the bottom line, our guys have to be where they are supposed to be, and be aggressive with it.”
The Lions are led by 6-foot-5 sophomore quarterback Luke Sampson, who has completed 113-of-191 passes for 1,569 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions this season.
Sampson will be helped by a deep pass-catching corps of senior wide receivers Jaedon Stoshak (6-0, 190 pounds) and Ezekiel Long (6-4, 205), junior tight end Deontay Campbell (6-5, 244) and junior wideout Akeem Gilmore (6-0, 202).
Stoshak leads the group with 26 catches for 428 yards and four touchdowns. Campbell is next at 21 catches for 307 yards and three touchdowns, Gilmore has caught 21 passes for 287 yards and a touchdown and Long has added 16 catches for 252 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s always going to be a challenge when you have a quarterback that can throw it to guys that can catch it,” Gales said. “We have to play competitive, defensive football and we have to create some pass breakups and get some stops.”
Lincoln has been very impressed with junior running back Nathan Glades (5-10, 194), who has rushed 63 times for 272 yards and a touchdown while adding eight receptions for 58 yards.
“He’s probably one of the best players in the conference,” Gales said. “He’s a dynamic football player who gets things done on the ground and out of the backfield. We need to know where he’s at, at all times.”
On the defensive side, the Lions have allowed 23.3 points, 166.3 rushing yards and 174.4 passing yards per game.
Missouri Southern’s defense is led by its linebacking corps of senior Colton Winder (6-2, 230), sophomore Zach Bergmann (6-4, 233) and sophomore Colton Bass (6-2, 215).
“That bunch over there is going to be highlighted by their linebacking corps,” Gales said. “They are really patient, they are going to keep everything in front of them and then they are going to make the tackle.”
The Lions have been opportunistic on defense and have forced 10 turnovers, four interceptions and six fumble recoveries, on the season.
Lincoln thinks if it is patient on offense and takes care of the football, opportunities will be there down the field.
“We have to execute but we also have to protect the football and move toward the chains,” Gales said. “If we can do that, we’ll be in good shape to take advantage of some other opportunities, meaning getting the ball downfield a little bit.
“If we are able to put a running game together, we’ll be able to throw some passes and complete some balls.”
Today will mark the 14th matchup all-time between the two sides, with Missouri Southern winning the past 12 to lead 12-2 in the series. The Lions won last season’s meeting 37-14 in Joplin.