There is plenty on the line today for the Central Missouri Mules, and the Lincoln Blue Tigers want to play the role of spoiler.
The Mules will try to clinch their first Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association championship since 2003 when they host the Blue Tigers at Walton Stadium in Warrensburg. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.
"Knowing that they can clinch at least a share of the conference, we know they're going to come out early and give it their best effort," Lincoln interim head coach Malik Hoskins said. "We expect high-pressure defense, we expect an aggressive offense."
Central Missouri (9-0), ranked No. 10 in the AFCA Division II Top 25 poll, kept its undefeated season alive with 17 unanswered points in the final five minutes last Saturday to rally past Nebraska-Kearney for a 47-40 road win.
It was the fifth single-digit win this season for the Mules and their fourth comeback win from a double-digit deficit.
"That's just a testament to the type of team and what that coaching staff has done," Hoskins said. "They're not able to do that if they haven't been put in those situations in practice. That's just a testament to that coaching staff and what they're doing with that group of guys."
Lincoln (1-8) suffered its second straight loss last Saturday with a 66-6 defeat against Fort Hays State.
"We played with little to no effort at all," Hoskins said, "and that was the bottom line."
Lincoln men fall by a point to Sioux FallsRead more
Central Missouri leads Division II in total offense, averaging 559.7 yards per game. The Mules rank third in the nation in passing offense (341.7 yards) and 29th in rushing offense (218.0 yards).
"They're sitting there with the No. 1 offense in Division II football," Hoskins said. "We expect them to come out throwing the football like it's nobody's business."Redshirt senior quarterback Brock Bolles (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) has completed 153-of-281 passes this season for 2,933 yards. He has thrown for 32 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.
Bolles has been named the MIAA offensive player of the week four times this season, including earlier this week. He threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns against Nebraska-Kearney with a game-winning 63-yard touchdown passes with :01 remaining.
"This kid, he plays with so much poise," Hoskins said. "It is unbelievable. I guess that's what you expect from a redshirt senior, he's been through it. He's seen pretty much everything you can throw at him.
"Last week, in the fourth quarter when they were down 10, he never got rattled. They always feel like they have an opportunity to win."
Sophomore wide receiver Shae Wyatt is Bolles' top target with 41 catches for 972 yards and eight touchdowns. He ranks sixth in Division II in receiving yards.
"He has the ability to get open," Hoskins said. "He's a very savvy receiver, runs really good routes. He always seems to be open."
Junior tight end Zach Davison (6-7, 245) has caught 13 touchdowns on 30 receptions for 719 yards.
"He's another physical specimen that they have," Hoskins said. "That's a synopsis of what we've seen in this conference. Everybody's big, everybody's talented. But it seems like this Central Missouri team has put it all together and the chemistry is unbelievable."
Running backs Devante Turner (5-9, 185 jr.) and Koby Wilkerson (6-0, 190 jr.) have rushed for 753 and 625 yards, respectively. Turner, the starter and a previous MIAA offensive player of the week recipient, has nine touchdowns, while Wilkerson has seven touchdowns.
"I really feel like whoever is having the better day, that's who's going to get the bulk of the carries," Hoskins said. "Turner is a kid that I'm familiar with because I recruit the city of Memphis, Tenn., and his running style I'm very familiar with."
Senior center Jake Heckler (6-4, 285), a four-year starter and returning All-MIAA third-team player, leads the Mules' offensive line.
"When you're trying to run an up-tempo offense, those are the kind of guys you need up front," Hoskins said.
Leading Central Missouri's defense up front is junior end Ubong Udom (6-3, 265), the reigning MIAA special teams player of the week who blocked a 30-yard field-goal attempt by Nebraska-Kearney with less than 30 seconds to play.
"Their defensive line, they're going to be fast," Hoskins said. "They're not as big as we've seen, but they're going to be fast."
The Mules will use a 3-4 defense, but Hoskins said the Blue Tigers will treat them like a team with four down linemen.
Senior inside linebacker Kolesen Crane is second on the team with 41 tackles and has seven takeaways: four interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
"He's a ball hawk," Hoskins said. "If they're running the ball on a stretch or inside, he's there. Any time that ball is on there ground or in the air, he feels like he has as much of a right to that football as the offensive guys."
In the secondary, junior free safety Codie Bell (5-10, 185) scored the winning touchdown on a pick-six in the final minute of a game earlier this season against Emporia State. He also leads the team with 61 tackles.
"He's a factor in the run game," Hoskins said. "He's a kid that likes to stick his nose in there."
Central Missouri is averaging 48.8 points per game while allowing an average of 30.2. Hoskins said teams have had success throwing the ball against the Mules, but that won't work in the Blue Tigers' favor, with just 499 yards passing for the season.
"With us not having success throwing the football, we're trying to be creative this week," Hoskins said. "We're figuring out ways we can get the ball to our playmakers in space."
Lincoln running back Hosea Franklin rushed for 131 yards last Saturday, giving him 1,179 yards rushing for the season. He needs 88 yards to break the school's single-season record set by Morris Henderson in 2013.
"Hosea wasn't highly recruited out of high school," Hoskins said. "He's come in, he's had a redshirt year, he had a medical year, and now he's finally on the field for a full year. He's been banged up all year and I don't know what we're going to get from him on Saturday, but he comes out and he does something extraordinary.
"It's a testament to him, his work ethic and just the type of character he has."
Notes: Central Missouri leads the all-time series 23-7 against Lincoln. The Mules won the last meeting 49-6 in 2011. Redshirt sophomore Graham Baucom (Eldon High School) is listed as a backup left guard for Central Missouri. Lincoln left tackle Javon Burruss is questionable for today's game and will be a game-time decision, Hoskins said. Middle linebacker TeAndre Skinner (knee) and cornerback Alby Henrie (foot) will miss today's game. Cornerback Chavon Gross (shoulder) is questionable. "We're not healthy, but we're good enough to play," Hoskins said.