By BEN JOHNSON
Northeastern State is no longer a winless member in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.
Joel Rockmore rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown — a 19-yard, go-ahead score with 1:54 remaining — as the RiverHawks rallied from three scores down to upend Central Missouri, 24-23, at Doc Wadley Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
“It feels great,” NSU head coach Kenny Evans said. “I really expected it to come a lot sooner than this, but again, to win against a nationally-ranked team and to play well in six of our seven games, I’m happy with where we’re at.”
The RiverHawks (1-6, 1-6 MIAA) became the final team in the MIAA to post a victory in the league, only because Nebraska-Kearney started its game earlier than NSU. Both the RiverHawks and Lopers were winless heading into Saturday, but both won to give every team in the MIAA at least one win through Week 8.
Facing a six-point deficit with 2:51 to play, NSU marched 88 yards in 57 seconds (in five plays) to go ahead for good. After an offsides penalty, Rockmore rushed up the middle of the field before working his way around the left corner and into the end zone.
“The play that ‘Rock got it down there to score on was a play you don’t see much in football anymore: a trap,” Evans said. “That’s all we do. Within our two-minute offense, we run a trap — it was something they had been giving us the whole game.”
Of course, Rockmore’s clinching score wouldn’t have been possible without Johnny Deaton and Jermaine Sherman.
After three straight incompletions to start the drive, Deaton connected with Sherman on a 64-yard pass on fourth-and-10.
On the play that was called, “I do a post and the slot (receiver) does a wheel route,” said Sherman, who had his right shoulder wrapped in ice after hauling in six catches for 102 yards during the course of the game.
“And when I ran my post, the free safety rolled down and left me wide open. That’s how I got so open. Then, I tried to get my break-away speed, but you seen what happened.”
Sherman’s second-longest catch of the season came after he coughed up a fumble and turned the ball over, after NSU had just crossed into Central Missouri territory with 4:21 to play.
“Jermaine wanted back in the game, and I’m not sure if the doctors even approved him to go back in the game, but nobody was going to stop him,” Evans said. “Then, he came in and made a big catch on fourth down.”
Once NSU took the lead, it was up to its defense to make a stand with a little less than two minutes left.
Yet, after three plays on Central Missouri’s ensuing drive, it appeared as though the Mules (5-3, 5-3) were going to at least be within field goal range for kicker Aaron Jamieson, who would of had the south wind at his back. On third-and-10 from its own 26-yard line, Central Missouri moved the ball 32 yards up the field when quarterback Colter Smith — last week’s conference Offensive Player of the Week — found Ronrei Lloyd over the middle of the field.
The Mules, though, wouldn’t pick up another first down. Smith completed two straight passes on first and second down, but a 7-yarder to David Cannon was negated by a pass for a loss of seven yards to LaVance Taylor.
Then, on third down, NSU defensive lineman, James McGue batted down a Smith pass.
“On the deflection, one of my teammates told me that on a certain play, (Smith) likes to throw over the defensive ends, so I had to get my hands up,” McGue said of his only pass break-up of the game. “I just threw my hands up and hit the ball.”
On fourth-and-10, Smith frantically passed to Taylor, who was 15 yards down the field. But the pass fell incomplete, prompting a thunderous celebration on the NSU sidelines and among the 1,772 in the stands.
“Victory coming our way,” McGue said, when asked what was going through his mind when Smith’s 46th pass attempt of the game fell incomplete.
Save for Smith’s long pass to Lloyd on the Mules’ final drive, Central Missouri mustered only 73 yards on offense in the second half.
“Couldn’t get anything going on offense in the second half; we missed out on some opportunities,” Central Missouri coach Jim Svoboda said. “But you have to give Northeastern State’s kids credit. They played hard, their coaches did a great job with them and they never quit.”
The RiverHawks, who trailed 23-7 at halftime, began their comeback with 8:11 left in the third quarter when Cayle Shambaugh recovered a fumble in the end zone to get NSU within 23-14. And 82 seconds into the fourth quarter, NSU kicker Drew Patton booted home his sixth field goal of the season, this one from 20 yards out.
Deaton finished 19 of 37 for 226 yards and one interception for the RiverHawks on offense. As a team, NSU racked up 400 yards of total offense, compared to only 250 for Central Missouri.
However, the Mules won the turnover battle — and easily. The RiverHawks handed the ball over five times (four times on fumbles) while Central Missouri had three giveaways.
But in the end, it was Jamieson’s missed point-after attempt — following the Mules’ first score of the game — that proved to be the difference.
“After one of our touchdowns, I almost went for two,” Evans said, talking about possibly attempting to score on a two-point conversion after Shambaugh’s touchdown. “But I’m glad I didn’t do that now.”
NSU managed to claim an early lead on Deaton’s 34-yard run straight up the guy midway through the first quarter.
The RiverHawks’ advantage evaporated in a hurry, though. Central Missouri manhandled the RiverHawks the rest of the first half.
The Mules’ first touchdown came on Smith’s 15th scoring pass of the season, a 6-yard strike to Sean Gorman.
Moments later, Smith tossed another touchdown pass, this time to Lloyd — who caught a game-high 10 passes for 126 yards — for 19 yards to give the Mules the lead, 13-7.
Continuing to prey on NSU turnovers, Central Missouri scored two more times in the second quarter — with both possessions starting in NSU territory. First was an Aaron Jamieson 31-yard field goal, followed by Gorman’s 1-yard run late in the second quarter.
The Mules, though, were held scoreless after that, resulting in their first game this season where they didn’t score in the second half.
“We had an outstanding first half,” Svoboda said. “Defense did a good job of taking the ball away, and offensively we just had a lot of near-misses. Like I said, we lost our rhythm and give credit to them.”
Northeastern State 24, Central Missouri 23
UCM 13 10 0 0 -- 23
NSU 7 0 7 10 -- 24
NORTHEASTERN STATE — Johnny Deaton 34-yard run (Drew Patton kick), 6:21.
CENTRAL MISSOURI — Sean Gorman 6-yard pass from Colter Smith (Aaron Jamieson kick failed), 4:40.
CENTRAL MISSOURI — Ronrei Lloyd 19-yard pass from Smith (Jamieson kick), 1:44.
CENTRAL MISSOURI — Jamieson 31-yard field goal, 12:18.
CENTRAL MISSOURI — Gorman 1-yard run (Jamieson kick), 4:41.
NORTHEASTERN STATE — Cayle Shambaugh fumble recovery in end zone (Patton kick), 8:11.
NORTHEASTERN STATE — Patton 20-yard field goal, 13:38.
NORTHEASTERN STATE — Joel Rockmore 19-yard run, 1:54.
First downs 15 19
Rush 3 9
Pass 8 8
Penalty 4 2
Rush Att-Yds 24-22 39-174
Pass Comp. 27 19
Pass Att. 46 37
INT’s thrown 2 1
Passing Yards 228 226
Total Yards 250 400
Punts-Avg. 8-44.6 7-43.6
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 4-4
Penalties-Yds 7-50 9-82
Central Missouri: LaVance Taylor 11-13, Corey Washington 4-12, Colter Smith 7-6, Sean Gorman 1-1, TEAM 1-(-10); Northeastern State: Joel Rockmore 25-121, Johnny Deaton 7-33, Dallas McCutcheon 2-13, Zack Simmons 3-13, TEAM 1-(-2).
Missouri Central: Smith 27-46-2 228; Northeastern State: Deaton 19-37-1 226, McCutcheon 0-0-0 0.
Missouri Central: Ronrei Lloyd 10-126, Taylor 5-(-6), David Cannon 3-49, Cullen Rosine 2-27, Ralph Watson 2-8, Cody Woods 1-8, Gorman 1-6, Washington 1-5, Anthony Kirkwood 1-5, Kyson Ginavan 1-0; Northeastern State: Jermaine Sherman 6-102, Jahmai Coleman 6-70, Chucky Bryant 3-32, Gionni Harris 2-18, Ryan Dvorak 1-3, Rockmore 1-1.