Saturday night’s game for Southwestern Assemblies of God University has a whole new feel.
The Lions will play their first home game in the renovated and expanded Lumpkins Stadium at 6 p.m.
After years of gradually building its football program from its infancy, SAGU is coming of age. The team has a 3-1 record and is listed among the nationally ranked teams in the NAIA.
Southwestern has a huge litmus test awaiting Saturday as they play host to No. 11 Southern Nazarene University, from Oklahoma City, Okla. The Crimson Storm will roll into town with a 4-0 record.
Whether the Lions can roar against the likes of SNU is the big question. But playing games that matter at midseason and beyond could become something this becomes used to.
Fresh off a 46-2 thumping of Haskell University last week, SAGU will be going up against the Storm’s No. 2 rated defense in the country. The Lions had five different receivers catch a touchdown pass while racking up nearly 600 yards of total offense.
About Southern Nazarene
Facing a loaded Southern Nazarene team, however, will be a huge challenge.
Coach Mike Cochran’s offense is tops in both points per game (52) and total offense, averaging 543.3 yards per outing. Senior quarterback Brady Wardlaw is tops in the country in touchdown passes (16), throwing four per game and gaining 297 yards per outing as well.
Wardlaw is no stranger to SAGU. He is 2-0 against the Lions as a starter and threw for 506 yards in last year’s 35-21 SNU victory. The Storm trailed early in the third quarter, 13-7, before breaking the game open. His favorite target is Jarrod Martin, who has caught 18 passes for four touchdown’s and an average pick up of 18 yards.
Equally impressive is his array of 16 receivers who have caught at least one of Wardlaw’s passes.
Derrick Perkins, a junior halfback, leads the team with 351 yards rushing. He picks up 5.7 yards per carry, with six plays finishing in the end zone.
The story from their campus in Bethany, Okla. is not about the Storm’s offense, but rather, their defense.
In 2010 they yielded 34.3 points and 438 yards per game, the latter rated No. 77 in the NAIA.
This fall the Storm Chasers are surrendering just 11.8 points per game and 173 yards, which has earned its No. 2 ranking nationally. Michael Hicks, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound, freshman linebacker, leads SNU by making 10 tackles per game.
Southwestern could be 4-0 had they held onto the ball better in its road opener. The Lions came up short, 29-21, to Bethany College, primarily due to four turnovers and several bad center snaps.
The Lions have steadily improved, topping Howard Payne University, 21-15; Austin College by a 35-13 count, then cruising past Haskell. Turning the ball over, however, is likely the team’s key concern. They have committed 14 turnovers in four games.
SAGU’s spread-option offense has shown plenty of progress as well as the ability to strike from anywhere on the field. Senior quarterback Jason Rice and sophomore backup Reid Golson have led the team with their legs and arms. Rice is averaging 164 yards of offense per game while the speedy Golson contributes 149.
The Lions are led by senior wide receiver David Howard, who has snared 19 passes for two touchdowns. Sophomore Nick Morphew has eight catches and former Waxahachie Indian Max Whitfield averages over 20 yards per catch on his six receptions.
Sean Haynes and Trevor McKinley have both latched on to seven passes, while Micah Burditt may be the club’s long threat. He has five catches for two touchdowns and a 20+ yard average. The latter threesome are all speed-merchants.
Golson leads all Lion rushers with 242 yards, picking up 4.6 per carry while scoring four touchdowns. Haynes (152 yards) and Rice (149) are steady ball carriers, while Cade Leuschner’s 5.8 yards per tote is the best on the squad.
Overall, the Lions are scoring at a 35 points per game clip and have begun to get on track on offense. Their 379 yards per game is No. 27 in the NAIA.
Southwestern, like SNU, has a defense that is bringing the pain. The Lions allow just 221 yards to their opponents, which is No. 8 in the NAIA.
They have permitted only five touchdowns in four games, which is less than the Storm’s six. In fact, the defense has scored in all four games, including four touchdown’s and a pair of safeties.
The top three tacklers wearing the golden domes are linebackers.
Senior Donte Embry is averaging seven stops per game and he is joined at the top of the team leaders with Quentin Holloman and freshman Rockie Davis.