LANGSTON — The stakes were considerably less than a year ago. No conference championship was on the line. No playoff berth was up for grabs.
This time, two oft-successful small college football programs were simply trying move a step closer to .500.
Langston moved within one victory of an even season Saturday night with a 17-14 victory over winless Southern Nazarene before an estimated 3,500 fans at W.E. Anderson Stadium.
Anthony Fernandez kicked a 37-yard field goal with 9:07 left in the game to give Langston (2-3) the lead for good. The field goal came four plays after the Lions kept the drive alive with a fourth-and-1 conversion plunge by quarterback Brendan Crawford. Fernandez, a senior who played soccer in high school in California, said there was no doubt the field goal was good. After that, he said, it was all up to the defense to keep the lead.
“Our team hasn't been down or anything like that,” Fernandez said of the Lions' slow start. “We've played some good teams, and we've lost some tough games. But this is a big confidence boost for us.”
The last time these teams played, last Nov. 12 in Bethany, Southern Naz beat Langston 38-34 to clinch the Central States Football League championship and advance to the NAIA playoffs. These days, both teams are retooling. Both squads have lost difference-making offensive standouts — quarterback Brady Wardlaw for SNU and tailback Carlos Ross for Langston — and the 2012 season results are proof. SNU is also making the transition to NCAA Division II, and its schedule is loaded with future Great American Conference opponents.
SNU (0-5) still had a chance to pull out Saturday's game, getting good field position late in the fourth quarter. With Lions punter Dave DeHarde standing in the end zone, SNU's Matt Pruitt got a piece of the football, though it still traveled forward to Langston's 34.
Langston dodged a problem when SNU quarterback Dylan Terry overthrew an open Sedrick Johnson in the end zone on second down. Lions nose guard Pierre Alexander then batted away Terry's pass on third down. Ian Sanders was sent in to try a 40-yard, game-tying field goal with 2:01 remaining, but his attempt was way right.
“Our defense came up big, came up real big,” Langston coach Mickey Joseph said. “SNU, (coach) Mike Cochran does a great job with them, and they're still a tough team. They're playing a tough Division II schedule, too. It's always a good game against them.”
Langston managed to kill the final time on the clock, though SNU used two remaining timeouts. But on third-and-5, Langston picked up a big first-down run from Will Taylor to clinch the win.
“We came in this 1-3, but we have told the kids to take it one at a time,” Joseph said. “One down, one to go — and that's next week against Wayland Baptist.”
Langston had a 14-0 lead early in the game, with both TDs coming after Terry interceptions.
Defensive back Chace Green stopped an SNU drive by stepping in front of an intended receiver who appeared to not see the ball. Green stepped in between the receiver and Terry and had clear sailing for a 68-yard touchdown return with 1:01 left in the first quarter. Terry was intercepted on the Crimson Storm's next possession, early in the second quarter.
Although Southern Nazarene's defense came up with a few big plays from Josh Daugherty, Jake Garrett and Michael Hicks, the Lions took a 14-0 advantage with Crawford dropping a 31-yard TD pass to Sheldon Augustine.
SNU answered with 4:36 left in the second quarter, Terry threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Johnson, who was about two steps behind a defender.
The Crimson Storm tied the game on its first possession of the third quarter when Terry again found Johnson open in the end zone for a 9-yard TD.