The Lincoln Blue Tigers dug too deep of a hole Saturday afternoon at Dwight T. Reed Stadium.
The Missouri Southern Lions scored on each of their first four possessions, while Lincoln managed just one first down the first three times it controlled the ball. That proved to be the difference in the Lions' 52-32 victory, spoiling Homecoming for the Blue Tigers.
"We were poorly prepared," Lincoln coach Malik Hoskins said, "in particular on the defensive side of the ball. This is a team that hadn't done a lot offensively, up until today. We've had problems stopping the run all season, but I just thought this would be the week that we finally stop the run."
Missouri Southern scored three touchdowns — a 2-yard run by Nathan Glades and 41-yard and 39-yard catches by Brian Boyd Jr. — and added a 42-yard field goal by Nick Williams to take a 24-0 lead with 13:51 remaining in the second quarter.
The Lions' highest single-game output entering Saturday's game was 21 points. They had surpassed that mark just 69 seconds into the second quarter.
The Blue Tigers went three-and-out on their first two possessions, as quarterback Zamar Brake was sacked on third down both times.
"We just did a poor job early of picking up on the stunts that they were doing," Hoskins said. "It wasn't something that we hadn't seen before, we just did a poor job of executing what was called."
Lincoln got on the scoreboard with an 11-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Brake to Chrisshun Robinson on fourth-and-6. The extra point was blocked, but that score cut the Lions' lead to 24-6 with 8:57 left in the second quarter.
The Blue Tigers appeared to gain more momentum when Piere' Jones intercepted a pass in the end zone from Missouri Southern's Dawson Herl — his first interception thrown this season — but on the very next play, the Lions' Dylan Bolden picked off Brake and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown.
"I don't know what it is, but every time we get something going good, we do something to shoot ourselves in the foot and give them momentum right back," Hoskins said. "On the interception for a touchdown, it made no sense for him to throw the ball that way."
Lincoln running back Hosea Franklin broke loose for a 43-yard run, setting up a 6-yard scramble for a touchdown by Brake with 5:05 to go in the first half.
After each team punted, Missouri Southern closed the half with a 9-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Brown with :36.6 on the clock, giving the Lions a 38-12 halftime lead.
Lincoln outscored Missouri Southern 20-14 in the second half.
The Blue Tigers had a 15-play drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock in the third quarter. They converted on third down twice and on fourth down once, leading to a 6-yard touchdown run by Franklin up the middle. Samuel Ignoli caught the pass for the 2-point conversion, and the lead was now 38-20 with 2:47 to go in the quarter.
"Offensively, we want to be able to go on methodical drives," Hoskins said. "We love the big play, of course we do, but we understand what we have on the other side of the ball, and we have to play for ball control. And we did a great job of that."
Missouri Southern answered with a pair of big plays, as Josh Mercer broke loose for a 61-yard touchdown run and Boyd caught a 72-yard touchdown pass along the Lions' sideline, pushing the lead to 52-20 with 13:57 remaining.
Aside from those two big-play scores, Lincoln forced Missouri Southern to punt on its other three full possessions in the second half.
"In the first half, we couldn't get off the field on third down," Hoskins said. " Yes, (the defense) played better in the second half, but when you're put in a hole like we were in the first half, it's just tough to overcome."
Lincoln scored the game's final two touchdowns.
Brake launched a deep pass intended for Aderias Ealy, who tipped the ball in the air near the Missouri Southern 20-yard line. Charles Johnson swooped in, caught the tipped ball and ran the remaining 20 yards for a 65-yard touchdown reception with 12:16 on the clock.
On their final possession of the game, the Blue Tigers ended the day with Brake throwing a lob pass to a wide-open Ignoli at the goal line for a 19-yard score with 3:00 to play, making the final margin 20 points.
Missouri Southern outgained Lincoln 567-443, as Herl threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns and Boyd caught seven passes for 169 yards. Mercer added 119 yards rushing for the Lions (2-4), who entered the game averaging 287.6 yards.
Franklin posted his third straight 100-yard rushing game, finishing with 23 carries for 138 yards. Brake was 19-of-30 passing for 251 yards and three scores, completing passes to eight players. Johnson had two catches for 101 yards.
As the season reaches the halfway point, Brake has 1,230 yards passing, more than halfway to Lincoln's single-season record of 2,076 yards set by Jacob Morris in 2013.
TeAndre Skinner had a team-high 15 tackles for the Blue Tigers, including two tackles for loss. Elliott Albert followed with 14 total tackles.
Lincoln (0-5) plays Saturday at Pittsburg State (4-2), which had a 12-point lead in the second half Saturday but lost 20-19 at No. 2 Northwest Missouri.
"Some of the guys are demoralized," Hoskins said. "I've got to be creative on making sure that I can get their mindset back to where it needs to be by the time we hit the field on Monday."
Note: According to the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, Saturday's game was the first football contest in conference history between two Black head coaches, featuring Hoskins and Missouri Southern's Atiba Bradley.