KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Western Griffons and third-year head coach Matt Williamson finished the 2018 season with a 7-5 record, breaking a two-year stretch where the Griffons failed to post a winning record. Williamson and his players believe they’re ready to take the next step toward winning a conference championship.
“They don’t want a bowl game anymore and neither do I and so that was our focus,” Williamson said. “We’ve got to try to win every single game and every game is different. We want to win every single game no matter who we line up against, we’re going to compete, we’re going to play physical and they’re going to know who they played when they leave.”
Missouri Western’s greatest strength coming into the 2019 season may be the return of four seniors to its offensive line. The line will block for one of the most explosive players in the MIAA in Shamar Griffith. Griffith was fourth in the league in yards per carry with 6.5.
The Griffons expect to be better on the offensive side of the ball this season and that starts with the play at quarterback.
“This year we’re going to have some quarterbacks that can throw the ball, that can spin it a lot better,” Williamson said. “You add in our run game on top of that and we’re going to be pretty electric on offense.”
Western will need to be better on offense in 2019 if its expectation is to take the next step. The Griffons offense was 10th in the MIAA in scoring last season at 27.5 points per game. Missouri Western's strength came in the running game, finishing third in the conference at just under 220 yards per game. The Griffons return Griffith while also adding transfer Markel Smith from Illinois State. Smith rushed for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
The Missouri Western defense was a mixed bag in 2018. The Griffons allowed 92 points in their first three games of the season before bouncing back to allow just 33 over the next three games.
The rush defense finished second in the conference, allowing an average of 130 yards per game. Where they struggled was on the back end of the defense, ranking 10th in pass defense. Williamson expects the team to improve with consistency at the coordinator position.
“Going into the spring it was unbelievable the retention that came back from year two to year three just because we had the same coordinators in place,” Williamson said. “We’re playing a lot faster, we’re a total reactive team now.”
Leading the way defensively for the Griffons will be senior linebacker Anthony Williams and Sam Webb. Williams finished the 2018 season with 94 tackles and was an All-MIAA Honorable Mention. The senior linebacker learned to lead from those who came before him.
“In order to be a leader, you have to learn how to follow first,” Williams said. “I learned from other players that came through the program and I watched how they interacted with everybody and how they handled their business. I kind of picked up off of them and learned how to be a leader.”
Missouri Western will need a better start than it had in 2018. The Griffons will once again start the season with a Thursday night battle at home against rival Northwest Missouri State on Sept. 5. It is a game that Western looks forward to every year.
“I think the week one against Northwest is going to be a great opportunity for us to show the capabilities of this football team,” offensive lineman Hayden Eatinger said. “I think we’re going to be able to use this as a steppingstone to show people that we’re not just a seven-win team, we’re not just a bowl team. We are that team that can win nine to 10 games and compete for a conference championship.”