Missouri State christened the 2016 football season in grand fashion, dominating Southwestern College in all phases of the game in a 57-0 victory Thursday evening at Robert W. Plaster Stadium. Led by a career night from Colby Isbell, the Bears defense stifled the Moundbuilders’ attack, while the offense rolled up 462 yards to finish the first shutout of the Dave Steckel era.
Isbell matched a career high with 7.0 tackles, while recording 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in the opening half to help stake Missouri State (1-0) to a commanding lead, before the Bears offense put the game out of reach in the third quarter. Overall, the Bears held SC to 116 yards of total offense in 66 plays (1.76 yards per play), recorded 4.0 sacks and 11.0 total tackles for losses totaling 48 yards to help post MSU’s largest margin of victory in nearly a quarter century.
The MSU offense helped spur an early charge that saw the Bears take a 21-0 lead just 10 minutes into the contest and racked up 462 yards of total offense on the night. Sophomore quarterback Breck Ruddick completed 13-of-15 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 37 yards on just four carries.
Sophomore Nick Masoner led a potent MSU ground attack that piled up 321 rushing yards on 52 carries, finishing his night with a game and career-high 132 yards on 13 carries.
The runaway victory before a crowd of 8,827 represented the largest final margin in a Bears’ win since Sept. 21, 1991, when MSU routed Prairie View A&M by a 61-0 score at Plaster Stadium.
Deion Holliman, a preseason All-MVFC pick and the nation’s leading combined kick returner last fall, turned in a big night as well. The junior recorded 173 all-purpose yards, including 129 on his two kickoff returns, and hauled in the second touchdown reception of his Missouri State career. Holliman sparked the Bears’ early outburst by returning the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead, just 12 seconds into the new season. He would add to the MSU advantage on the Bears next possession by reaching high to grab a nine-yard scoring strike from Ruddick, who went 5-of-5 for 42 yards on the 73-yard drive.
MSU took advantage of a short field to add to its lead, as an 18-yard SC punt set up the Bears at the 28-yard line. Three plays later, Jason Randall bulled his way into the end zone for a seven-yard scoring run to stretch the margin to 21-0 with 5:00 to play in the opening quarter.
The Missouri State defense left an early impression on the Moundbuilders (0-1) as well, limiting the visitors to just 10 offensive yards in the opening period. After allowing 23 yards on Southwestern’s opening drive, the Bears put the clamps on the opposition, thanks in large part to a series of stops on key third down plays. Isbell came up with third-down sacks on back-to-back possessions, and recorded all 5.5 of his tackles for loss before the break, ultimately coming up just a half tackle short of Dylan Cole’s MSU single-game record.
MSU held the ‘Builders to just one first down in the period and did not allow a third or fourth down conversion until late in the second quarter.
Redshirt freshman kicker Zach Drake tacked on his fourth successful boot of the first half by drilling a 19-yard field goal that made it a 24-point MSU lead with 10:39 left on the clock. Ruddick, who completed 9-of-11 passes for 69 yards in the opening half, connected twice with freshman Aaron Denson for a total of 20 yards, as well as with Calan Crowder on an eight-yard play to set up the kick.
In all, the Bears allowed just 62 yards on the ‘Builders’ 38 first-half offensive plays.
Another strong start in the second half all but sealed the outcome, with the Bears out-scoring their guests by a 19-0 margin to top the 40-point mark for the first time in their last 26 games dating back to November 2013. Randall, who totaled 67 rushing yards on nine carries, spearheaded an eight-play, 87-yard drive that ended with his second TD run of the night after the sophomore turned in three different runs of 10 yards or more. Ruddick hit on all four of his pass attempts for 60 yards, including back-to-back completions of 23 and 19 yards to Erik Furmanek and Malik Earl, respectively.
The Bears’ defense once again stood tall, as McNeece Egbim picked off a Braden Langston pass and returned it for what appeared to be a 32-yard touchdown. An illegal block wiped out the score, but Phoenix Johnson negated the penalty on the initial play of the drive with a 21-yard scamper that gave the home club a 38-0 lead.
After stopping the ‘Builders deep in their own territory, an errant snap on a punt attempt sailed through the end zone for a safety. Holliman’s 38-yard return of the ensuing kickoff set up another MSU scoring chance, as Masoner and Johnson teamed up to total 39 rushing yards on six carries to set up a 24-yard Shelby Harris field goal.
MSU would tack on a one-yard Gerard Harker run in the fourth, before Robert Thomas intercepted a Ka’Darius Baker pass and returned it 23 yards for the game’s final tally.
Missouri State embarks on its first road swing of the season next Saturday (Sept. 10) when it takes on Murray State in a 6 p.m. non-conference contest at Roy Stewart Stadium in Murray, Ky.