Gorillas face Missouri Western squad in season opener
Jake Faber | Sports Editor
The first game the Gorillas are slated to play this season will be a rematch of their MIAA TV debut least season against the Missouri Western Griffons, where they were throttled 42-25 on the road. The Gorillas will once again face the Griffons on their home turf inside Spratt Stadium in St. Joseph, Mo., and even with a lopsided score last season, Western’s head coach Jerry Partridge isn’t quick to discount the Gorillas.
“Tim Beck might only be in his second year as head coach, but his influence is all over that place,” Partridge said. “He’s a tremendous coach, and he certainly knows how to run the football.”
One player who saw success for the Gorillas in last year’s matchup was quarterback Zac Dickey, who broke off some big runs against the Griffon defense. With Dickey’s speed returning this season, Partridge says his team will be ready this time around.
“Dickey is a great runner, very quick-footed and makes people miss,” Partridge said. “He made some plays against us, and you have to be in control against him. He definitely took us by surprise.”
This season, the Griffons are depleted at the quarterback position, with only one player with any in-game experience returning from last year’s squad. Last year’s starter, Drew Newhart, accounted for an insane amount of Western’s pass-first offense with 2,799 yards and 25 scores through the air, averaging 233.2 yards per game. Newhart’s backup and head coach Jerry Partridge’s son, Travis Partridge, is poised to take over the starting job after seeing action in eight games and throwing for 145 yards and two touchdowns last season. Although those numbers may seem insignificant compared to Newhart’s, the Griffons are now left with Partridge and four incoming freshmen to compete for the starting duties.
“There’s always competition for every spot, but he is the clear-cut favorite,” Partridge said of his son. “He’s a bigger kid, runs pretty well and can throw the ball. A prototypical quarterback kind of guy.”
With minimal time to get acclimated to the system, unless one of those four freshmen prove themselves to be a standout talent, look for Partridge to be taking the snaps in this season opener. With a 6-foot-4 frame and experience with the Griffons’ offense, Partridge has the skills to fill Newhart’s shoes and is listed on Missouri Western’s web page as a “big athletic kid who has a lot of potential.”
But look for the Gorillas’ linebackers, especially Nate Dreiling, to rush Partridge hard in his first time starting behind the Griffons’ offense line in an attempt to force b
ad passes for the Gorillas’ secondary to prey on.
Another thing to consider is the loss of the Griffons’ main target at wideout. Last season, Andrew Mead proved to be Newhart’s choice target, accounting for 852 receiving yards and 12 of the team’s 27 scores through the air. Mead may have accounted for a majority of the Griffons’ receiving game, but sophomore receivers Terrell Downing and T.J. Fanning are reportedly returning for their junior seasons at Western, and accounted for a combined 1,009 yards and six scores last season. Along with Downing and Fanning’s return, the team brings back veteran wide receiver Adam Clausen for his senior season. Clausen was one of the top returning prospects last season, but compiled only 388 yards and four scores to rank fourth on the Griffons’ receiving chart. With veteran leadership from Clausen and young talent in players like Downing and Fanning, the Griffon receiving corps will definitely give Partridge the keys for success if he does indeed earn the starting job.
Although the Griffons were a pass-first offense last year, with Newhart’s loss the team may be forced to rely more on their rushing game. With leading scorer Thomas Hodges’s departure last season, junior Michael Hill is reportedly heading into the season as the Griffons’ No. 1 running back. Hill led all backs for Western last season with 704 yards and three touchdowns. Although he wasn’t used in goal-line situations as much as Hodges was, Hill is an explosive threat out of the backfield. He will be a force to be reckoned with if the Griffons come out in the first game with a run-heavy offense in an effort to lighten the load on whoever gets the nod at quarterback.
“He’s explosive, strong, he’s got good hands, he’s a great blocker, he’s the complete package,” Partridge said. “He’s an unselfish guy that we kept back a little bit and maybe should’ve got more carries, but he was a good player, and will get more of the load this time.”
Hill also brought a versatile aspect to the game last season, catching 27 passes for 269 yards and two scores.
On defense, the Griffons will have a few minor adjustments, but return an enormous amount of talent. The loss of lead linebacker Sean Whiters and cornerback Kendall Davis may put a small hole in Western’s defensive scheme early, but they return players who are capable of stepping up in their absence. Davis led the team with four interceptions last season, but defensive back Jack Long wasn’t far behind with two picks for 23 yards and a team-high 70 total tackles. Along with Long at the defensive back slot, Shane Simpson will be returning for his senior season. He had an impressive year with three interceptions and a team second-best 68 total tackles.
“Offense, we lose our best receiver and our quarterback, but everyone else returns,” Partridge said confidently. “Defensively, we lost two corners, two linebackers, but we do bring quite a bit of guys back. We’re going to have to play a pretty high level, because to win in the MIAA you have to play good defense.”