Bulldogs survive thrilling game

The offensive line prepares for the next snap. Truman allowed two sacks against Tiffin University. Photo by Oliver Malone

The Truman State University football team returns home this weekend for Family Day to play Lindenwood University. The Bulldogs are coming off of a big away win against Tiffin University, the 16th ranked Div. II football program in the country according to the latest American Football Coaches Association poll. 

The game started out bleak for the Bulldogs with Tiffin scoring on four of their first five drives during the game. Going into halftime Truman was facing a double-digit deficit, down 28-17 as quarterback Nick Watson and the Tiffin offense put on a performance nothing short of clinical. 

Even Truman fan Chuck Nichols noted the need for Truman to flip a switch following the first half. 

“The defense needed to step up and the offense needed to start making plays for us to win the game,” Nichols said. 

Head coach Gregg Nesbitt echoed this sentiment, saying that the defense needed to find a way to limit the aerial attack of the Tiffin offense and Watson. Watson threw four touchdowns in the first half.

Sophomore Cody Schrader takes it to the house for the touchdown. Schrader rushed for 164 yards against Tiffin University. Photo by Oliver Malone

However, something clicked on defense and those four touchdowns he threw for in the first half would be the only ones he had all game. 

Nesbitt attributed this to the fight of the Truman defense. 

“We had no answer for [Watson] in the first half,” Nesbitt said. “At halftime we talked about getting back to the basics and fundamentals. We had to find something to get him off his rhythm.”

Nesbitt continued, mentioning the pressure defensive lineman Peyton Carr got on Watson in the third quarter that got Watson rattled for the remainder of the game.

“I thought that play broke his rhythm … sometimes quarterbacks can get back into it and sometimes they can’t; so once we got him out, we seemed to pick up our aggressiveness and confidence,” Nesbitt said. 

Senior defensive lineman Michael Neisler also referenced some shifts Truman made on defense, such as dropping another man into the secondary and converting to a three-man rush for the majority of the second half. This adjustment was made to take away options for Watson and prevent the risk of the deep ball that was gashing the Truman defense for the majority of the first half. 

For Nesbitt, he said it is all about managing the stress that comes with the game and the environment. 

“The big thing is not adding stress on game day, you already have enough stress from the competition, especially if things are not going as well early on,” Nesbitt said.

Nesbitt also said it’s all about trying to cheerlead, and helping his players maintain confidence and remain persistent. 

Tiffin scored at the start of the third quarter to make the score 35-17, but Truman went on to come back in the game and only allowed Tiffin to go for a total of 27 yards in the final five drives of the game. 

Following this victory, Truman progressed to 4-0 on the season. However, neither players nor the coaches are ready to celebrate. 

“You don’t want to shy away from big picture goals whether it’s conference championships or national playoffs,” Nesbitt said. “With where we’re at with our culture right now … we aim small, miss small. If we want to have a good season we have to have a lot of good todays, and the surest way to improve is to focus on today and improve from yesterday.”

Jaylen Jefferson bursts down the field on a kickoff return. The senior leads the GLVC in kickoff return yards with 359. Photo by Oliver Malone

Neisler and offensive lineman Jon Saxbury reflected the attitude of their head coach, emphasizing the importance of treating every game as an attempt to go 1-0 on the season and not 5-0 which they will be shooting for this weekend. 

This innate desire to improve week in and week out does not take away from the excitement fans have about the rest of the season. 

“If we win this week against Lindenwood, I think the nation should watch out,” said Nichols. “I think that winning our conference would be a good goal to have this year and we’ll see what happens from there.”

It is worth noting that the Bulldogs began their 2019 campaign in a similar way, starting 5-0, getting knocked off by Lindenwood in the sixth week of the season following a series of dominant victories. 

Nichols mentioned that a victory against Lindenwood would serve as revenge for the derailing of the Bulldogs season two years ago, a chance to rewrite history. 

The performances of the Truman football team over the past couple years have also served as a catalyst for increased school spirit. 

“It’s great for school pride and I know we’re small but we had a great community for the first game and I think we’re 4-0, so we should be able to build a community around this team and get a big win this week,” Nichols said. 

Nichols expects Truman fans to show out en masse on Saturday to support the home team in their bid for a 5-0 record on the season against Lindenwood University. 

The game will begin at 6 p.m. at Stokes Stadium and will also be streamed on the GLVC network and 88.7 KTRM.