When the Lindenwood Lions football team needed someone to step up and make a big play in its 2015 NCAA Division II season opener, Thursday night at Hunter Stadium in St. Charles, new quarterback Jesse Scroggins delivered.
Scroggins, who was making his first start for the Lions, after transferring in from Division I Arizona over the summer, ran for one score and tossed another, with 23 seconds left to lift Lindenwood to a thrilling 20-14 win over visiting MIAA rival Washburn University.
“That was for my teammates,” Scroggins said, as he was swarmed by fans and supporters who wanted to congratulate him on his first victory. “I just love those guys. We’ve really built up a strong bond in a short time and I just wanted to do whatever I could to help us get this win tonight.”
And boy, did the former Under Armour High School All-American from Lakewood, Calif., come through as he took over at his own 36-yard line, and led the Lions on a heart-stopping 11-play, 64-yard drive, which culminated with a 7-yard touchdown strike in the back of the end zone to senior wide receiver Greg Coble.
On the play, Scroggins took the snap and rolled to his left. He then made a move to avoid pressure. And just when it looked like he might need to make a run for the goal line if Lindenwood was going to have any shot at scoring, the senior signal-caller, who originally signed with USC out of high school, found Coble standing alone in the back of the end zone for the score.
“I just had to make a move on the (defensive) end,” Scroggins said. “That bought me just enough time to look up and see Greg in the back by himself. Man, that felt good to come through in the clutch like that.”
Washburn did have a last chance to possibly drive down the field for its own game-winning score, but the Lindenwood defense, led by preseason All-American linebacker Connor Harris, who had a game-high 15 tackles on Thursday, knocked the ball away on the final play to clinch the victory.
“It was just one of those games,” Lindenwood head coach Patrick Ross said. “Both teams were up and down. We made plays, they made plays. We made mistakes, they made mistakes. Washburn’s a really good team. So we’re really excited to pull out that win.”
For the game, Washburn outgained Lindenwood 393 total yards to 329, with a game-high 250 of those yards coming through the air for the Ichabods. But the visitors also turned the ball over twice, which proved to be a key factor, especially early in the fourth quarter, when Lindenwood senior Bakari Triggs picked off a pass from Washburn QB Derek McGinnis, and returned it 45 yards for a score that gave the Lions their first lead at 13-7.
“That wasn’t just me, everybody executed perfectly on that play,” Triggs said. “The coaches called the perfect defense. My teammates were all where they needed to be to force the QB to throw the ball right where I was waiting for him. And once I got it, I knew I was gonna score.”
Washburn did answer back, when McGinnis hit fullback Sam Eickhoff for a 5-yard touchdown with 9:34 left.
That was the Washburn quarterback’s second touchdown pass of the game, and it gave the Ichabods a 14-13 lead. McGinnis’ first touchdown toss came early in the third quarter, on an 18-yard pass to wideout Jordan Hart, which gave Washburn its initial 7-0 edge.
Lindenwood answered back late in the third though, when Scroggins faked a handoff, then raced around left end and past the entire Washburn defense, for a 17-yard score, which along with White’s PAT, tied the score at 7-7.
“Jesse’s a terrific athlete,” Ross said. “He really can make plays with both his arms and his legs.”
Scroggins finished the game with 222 total yards, with the one score each on the ground and through the air.
The victory for Lindenwood (1-0 overall and 1-0 in MIAA play), marked the seventh straight year the Lions won their season opener, and gave the program an 11-1 record in home openers under Ross.
Lindenwood will return to action next Saturday, September 12, when it will travel to Pittsburg, Kan., to take on defending MIAA co-champion Pittsburg State. This season, the Gorillas are expected to once again contend for the MIAA crown, after being ranked No. 6 in the nation in the AFCA preseason poll.
Lindenwood’s next home game will be in two weeks, on September 19, when the Lions will host Fort Hays State.
Kickoff that evening at Hunter Stadium is set for 6 p.m.
SCORING … 1st 2nd 3rd 4th — Final Score
Washburn …. 0 … 0 … 7 … 7 … — 14
Lindenwood .. 0 … 0 … 7 … 13 .. — 20
WU – Jordan Hart 18 yd pass from Derek McGinnis (Perry Schmiedeler PAT) 12:07 – 7-0
LU – Jesse Scroggins 17 yd run (Brandon White PAT) 2:00 – 7-7
LU – Bakari Triggs 45 yd interception return (PAT blocked) 11:22 – 7-13
WU – Sam Eickhoff 5 yd pass from Derek McGinnis (Perry Schmiedeler PAT) 9:42 – 14-13
LU – Greg Coble 7 yd pass from Jesse Scroggins (Brandon White PAT) :23 – 14-20