By BEN JOHNSON
Plenty of labels could have been slapped on Northeastern State’s first eight games of the season. Rough, horrific and brutal would be hard to deny access on that list.
But perhaps of all the vocabulary listed in Merriam-Webster’s fine book, a three-syllable word toward the back would be most appropriate.
In all but one game, the RiverHawks were manhandled for a two-month span. The injuries piled up, offense was hard to come by and the defense was powerless in shutting down opponents.
But all of that is in the past after NSU avoided the program’s longest losing streak since the end of the 2004 season and the beginning of the 2005 campaign. The RiverHawks broke through for the first time this season and posted a 31-3 victory over Southwest Baptist last weekend.
“A lot of weight off the shoulders for everyone,” said NSU linebacker Langston Jones, who menaced the Bearcats to the tune of 16 tackles, four tackles for loss, one forced fumble, two pass breakups, a half sack and two quarterback hurries.
NSU’s showing on defense was so dominant that the RiverHawks held Southwest Baptist to its lowest point total since being shut out by Truman in 2004.
Not bad for a NSU club that had averaged an allotment of 41.9 points per contest.
“The approach was the same as any other day or any other team,” Jones said. “We have to line up and do our duties.”
That’ll be the case again when the RiverHawks look to build a winning streak for the first time since the end of last year. NSU (1-8, 1-7 MIAA) will take on Lincoln (1-8, 0-8) at Dwight T. Reed Stadium in Jefferson City, Mo., on Saturday at 2 p.m.
“They’re a very good offensive football team,” NSU head coach Kenny Evans said of the Blue Tigers. “They have one of the best rushers in the league. We had a problem tackling him last year.”
Evans’ reference is to Lincoln running back Morris Henderson, who is third in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association in rushing at 108.9 yards per game. Last week against Central Oklahoma, Henderson torched the Bronchos for 175 yards on 13 carries.
“They give you some problems with some athletes,” Evans said of Henderson and Co. “They played some people close and it’ll be a tough team for us to slow down, especially with all the holes we have on defense right now.”
Vacancies or not, the RiverHawks managed to win last week with a patchwork defense. Now NSU will aim to seize momentum with the end of the season on the horizon.
“The season is only getting started for some of the guys that are playing,” Evans said. “We just have to continue to get better and find ways to move the football. After what happened to us early on this season, all you can do late in the season is try to improve.”
That will be the new key word for the RiverHawks moving forward.
Northeastern State at Lincoln
When: Saturday at 2 p.m.
Where: Dwight T. Reed Stadium in Jefferson City, Mo.
Broadcast: KTLQ, AM-1350 or online at www.goriverhawksgo.com.
Nicknames: NSU RiverHawks; Lincoln Blue Tigers.
Coaches: NSU - Kenny Evans (sixth season, 21-43); Lincoln - Mike Jones (third season, 3-28).
Records: NSU 1-8 (1-7 MIAA); Lincoln 1-8 (0-8).
Rankings: Neither team is ranked in NCAA Division II football.
Series record: NSU leads 1-0.
Last meeting: In 2012, NSU upended Lincoln 45-21 in Tahlequah. Terrance Dixon rushed for 103 yards, and receiver Chucky Bryant caught three touchdowns passes for the RiverHawks, who put the game with a 24-7 second quarter to build up to a 31-14 halftime lead.
Last week: NSU 31, Southwest Baptist 3; Central Oklahoma 49, Lincoln 42.
News to know: NSU wide receiver Jordan Robinson, who left last week’s game with a head and neck injury, will be out for the rest of the season. “He’s wearing a neck brace and he had a slight concussion, but everything looks good and the MRI turned out good. He’ll likely start rehab after the season is over,” Evans said. ... The NSU-Lincoln matchup will feature the top two tacklers in the MIAA. NSU’s Langston Jones leads the league with 118 tackles (13.1 per-game average), while Lincoln’s Kendrick Causey isn’t far behind with 110 tackles (11.1 per contest).
Players to watch
NSU: Terrance Dixon (RB).
- Dixon, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior tailback, watched as Steven Hopper ran for 228 yards against Southwest Baptist last week. But Dixon is still the RiverHawks’ starting tailback, and he did run for 100-plus yards against Lincoln last year. Look for Dixon to get back on track after not posting a 100-yard rushing game since playing against Emporia State in Week 4.
Lincoln: Andre Borney (WR).
- The Blue Tigers’ 5-10, 180-pound senior wide receiver give quarterback Jacob Morris a solid target in the passing game. Borney, on top of five catches for 61 yards last week, is also a lethal return man, logging an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown last week against Central Oklahoma.
Looking ahead: Sooner State supremacy in the MIAA will be up for grabs when NSU hosts Central Oklahoma on Nov. 16. Lincoln will close out the campaign at home against Southwest Baptist on the same day.