Over the course of the first three quarters of Thursday night's NCAA Division II football opener between the Lindenwood Lions and the Lincoln Blue Tigers at Hunter Stadium in St. Charles, the host Lions dominated nearly every aspect of the action.
Lindenwood ran the ball better; threw the ball better; more made plays on defense; and did almost all the scoring -- to the tune of a 24-3 lead heading into the final 15 minutes.
But in the fourth quarter, the clearly improved Lincoln squad, which went 1-10 in each of the last two seasons, got its game going and scored three touchdowns to nearly pull off a miracle comeback.
Fortunately for Lindenwood though, Lincoln's special teams aren't all that special. And the Lions were able to capitalize on that to hold off the visiting Blue Tigers for a surprisingly tight 24-22 victory.
Sophomore linebacker A.J. Chappelle made what proved to be the key play of the game late in the fourth, when he blocked an extra point attempt by Lincoln, following its second fourth-quarter touchdown, which kept the score 24-16 at the time.
Being down eight, instead of just seven, proved crucial when Lincoln scored again with 18 seconds left, but had to go for two to try to tie and send the game into overtime.
Quarterback Jacob Morris, who threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns, found an open receiver in the end zone, but the pass bounced off his hands and fell incomplete, allowing Lindenwood to hold on for the win.
Sophomore Dillon Miller had a tremendous game for the Lions, completing 34-of-52 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns of his own, including a sensational 26-yard score with only 20 seconds left before halftime to true freshman Tyrian Taylor that allowed Lindenwood to go into the break ahead 17-3.
Miller went back to work on Lindenwood's first possession of the third quarter, driving the Lions 78 yards on 17 plays, including a 13-yard completion on 4th and 10 to junior Marvin Byrd that kept the drive alive.
The final pass, a five-yard touchdown dart to sophomore Alex Robinson, made the score 24-3 Lions.
On the ground, Byrd led Lindenwood with 78 yards on 13 carries, and also scored his team's lone rushing touchdown, on a four-yard run on the opening drive of the game.
Defensively, sophomore linebacker Connor Harris -- the 2012 MIAA leader in tackles -- was in mid-season form for the Lions, registering a game-high 17 stops (12 solo) to go along with two pass breakups.
Senior defensive end Thomas Stubbs had two of Lindenwood's four quarterback sacks and made five total tackles of his own.
The Lions (1-0) will be on the road next week, when they'll travel to Bolivar, Mo., for another MIAA conference game against Southwest Baptist University.
2013 LINDENWOOD LIONS SCHEDULE
September 5 -- vs. Lincoln University* ... Hunter Stadium ...... W, 22-24
September 14 -- at Southwest Baptist* .... Bolivar, Mo. ........ 6 p.m.
September 21 -- at Central Missouri* ..... Warrensburg, Mo. ... 1:30 p.m.
September 28 -- vs. Missouri S&T ......... Hunter Stadium ...... 6 p.m.
October 5 -- at Nebraska-Kearney* ........ Kearney, Neb. ...... 2:37 p.m.
October 12 -- vs. Fort Hays State* ....... Hunter Stadium ..... 1:30 p.m.
October 19 -- vs. Emporia State* ......... Hunter Stadium ..... 1:30 p.m.
October 26 -- at Washburn University* .... Topeka, Kan. ........ 1 p.m.
November 2 -- at Missouri Southern* ...... Joplin, Mo. ......... 2 p.m.
November 9 -- vs. Pittsburg State* ....... Hunter Stadium ..... 2:37 p.m.
* - denotes MIAA conference game