EDMOND — Central Oklahoma football coach Nick Bobeck and his assistants can teach the Bronchos how to become better players.
A lesson the players must take on themselves is learning how to win. And even then, learn how to maintain a winning culture.
On a day when UCO celebrated the 50th and 30th anniversaries of its NAIA championship teams, the current squad took a positive step toward what many alums are used to from Broncho football. Offense, defense and special teams all had a hand in Central Oklahoma's 35-20 victory over No. 9-ranked Washburn (Kan.) on Saturday afternoon before 2,500 fans at Wantland Stadium.
Not only was it victory No. 1 for UCO under first-year coach Bobeck, but it was a signature win for a long-successful football program that's still recovering from now-expired NCAA sanctions.
“We weren't trying to get a signature win, just a win period,” Bobeck said. “We're never out there trying to keep a game tight ... we're going out there and expect to win, and we have the ability to do that. We showed that today.”
The game featured two football programs that have gone in opposite directions recently.
Washburn has a 510-551-44 record in its history. Central Oklahoma has a 596-342-46 all-time mark — as well as 31 conference or division championships, the national titles in 1962 and 1982 and 10 playoff appearances in the NAIA and NCAA Division II.
Under 11th-year coach Craig Schurig, Washburn is working on its ninth consecutive winning season. Central Oklahoma is trying to avoid a fourth straight losing year. What makes the task tougher is a loaded Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association schedule. The Bronchos became official members of the league this season, and four of the MIAA's 15 teams are ranked in Division II's top 12. UCO has already lost to No. 1-ranked Pittsburg State (Kan.), and it has No. 7 Missouri Western on the road next Saturday and then No. 12 Northwest Missouri State in Edmond in two weeks.
Saturday's outcome at Wantland Stadium will likely get the latter two teams' attention.
“It was a good win for Central Oklahoma,” said Schurig, whose first-two teams at Washburn finished under. 500. He has since become the football program's most successful coach, at 77-45. One of those victories was a 48-3 decision last season against Central Oklahoma.
“When we played them last season, I thought they had some good, young players,” he said. “Their program has a pretty good tradition, too. But they stepped up today and made some key plays, and that's what they needed to do to win. You've got to hand it to UCO.”
UCO (1-3 overall, 1-2 MIAA) had reasons to give up Saturday, “because we made our share of mistakes,” Bobeck said.
But instead of letting Washburn (3-1, 2-1) steal the momentum, the Bronchos made big plays when they counted most. Chris Robbs salvaged two stalled drives with 25- and 28-yard field goals, giving Central Oklahoma a 6-0 lead in the second quarter. Washburn countered with Mitch Buhler's 32-yard touchdown pass to Matt Kobberman with 13 seconds before halftime for a 7-6 Ichabods lead. Washburn made it 14-6 early in the third quarter on Donnie Lockhart's 1-yard run.
But UCO rallied back. Quarterback Adrian Nelson and Marquis Walters hooked up for a 92-yard touchdown, the third-longest scoring connection in school history. Defensive end Colton Byford helped give UCO a 20-14 lead late in the third quarter. He jumped to break up a Buhler pass but instead came down with the football. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder lumbered 25 yards to the end zone, dragging a couple of Washburn players with him.
The Bronchos even took advantage of what they were given by officials. Two pass interference penalties in the end zone against Washburn contributed to a five-play, 73-yard drive capped by Christian Bobo's 1-yard TD run with 8:33 left in the game. Joshua Birmingham, who finished with a game-high 137 yards rushing, gave the Bronchos a 21-point lead with 2:58 left on an 8-yard touchdown carry.
“The first three games, we had some breaks go against us and we let those affect us,” Bobeck said. “Today, we missed some opportunities, but we kept on playing hard. And when you do that, you win. I'm proud of them.”