IIt was on the final play of the first half that quarterback Dawson Herl showed some of the point guarding ability that has made him such a formidable weapon for Missouri Southern since last fall.
As the final seconds ticked away in the second quarter, the 6ft 4in, 194lb second man in the red shirt was forced to hastily improvise as he felt the pressure of a collapsing pocket around him.
Herl rushed to his right as a crowd of defenders chased him. Then, after a quick look down the field, he put his feet up and threw a 40-yard high pass to wide receiver Ezekiel Lang in the corner of the end zone.
“Dawson continues to prove he’s an MIAA quarterback,” MSSU head coach Atiba Bradley said of Herl. “Some of the throws he makes the other guys couldn’t and didn’t. It really is the difference. … Right now he is playing at a very high level and can come into a season and carry a team.
He certainly did a little carry on Saturday.
In limited action, Herl completed nine of 14 passes for 140 yards and three touchdowns to help Team White to a 28-3 victory over Team Green in the MSSU Spring Game at Fred G. Hughes Stadium. .
Herl, the Lions starting flagger who threw for 2,260 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, was the best offensive player in the intrasquad scrum with touchdown passes for 10, 20 and 40 yards.
“Throughout the spring I focused on my eyes between games and just learned how to really manipulate the defense,” Herl said. “I think I started growing on that.”
The spring game format included four 15-minute quarters as well as a running clock in the second half. The white team went all out in the first half and finished with a 335-158 advantage in total rushing yards.
Each team was drafted before the spring game by a designated captain, with Herl choosing players for the white team and senior linebacker Richard Jordan Jr. choosing for the green team. The scrum lasted just over 90 minutes and was played in front of nearly 1,000 spectators.
“The kids were having fun,” Bradley said. “It’s a little tough sometimes when you split the roster. … But our guys came out and competed. They were trying to improve, and I think they did.
Jordan, who led Team Green with six tackles, and Herl said there was no shortage of playful banter or playfulness between the two heading into Saturday.
“You know me and Dawson were coming and going,” Jordan said. “But I love this lad. He does it in attack for me. So at the end of the day, we’re going to come together when the games really matter.
“I really like my (defensive) line at the moment. Definitely have to work on the defense as a whole. I don’t like the 28 points they gave us (Team Green). But when we’re all together , we will be much better.
“I knew I had my guys,” Herl said. “I pretty much had my (starting) offensive line. So I felt well protected and I knew we would have a pretty good attack.
Another offensive standout throughout the day was White tight end Deontay Campbell, who had five passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns.
Campbell, a junior, is a newcomer to Southern after transferring from the junior high school program Highland (Kansas) Community College. He was named an NJCAA First-Team All-American after recording 16 receptions for 314 yards and three touchdowns last fall.
“He’s young,” Bradley said. “We’ve had him for (several) years. He’s a young man who arrived and had the right mindset all the time. He wants to improve and he wants to make our team better, and that is a phenomenal athlete.
“Deontay Campbell had a big impact for us and we’re happy to have him here,” Herl said. “I think he will be a big part of our attack this year. He’s a big guy and he’ll catch just about anything that comes his way.
Lang finished with 71 receiving yards and two TD catches for the White team, while Oakley Roessler and Jeremy Brown led the team with 52 and 48 rushing yards, respectively. QB Luke Sampson completed six of 13 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown.
Linebacker Zach Bergman recorded seven tackles for the White team and linebacker Coleman Booker intercepted two passes.
For Team Green, QB David Oplotnik went 11 for 199 with 112 yards and two interceptions, while Isaac Kittrell went 5 for 8 with 58 yards and an interception. Akeem Gilmore had five passes for 93 yards and Albie Henry recorded 25 rushing yards.
Team Green’s only score in the game came on a 32-yard field goal from Nick Williams midway through the second quarter. Drake Reese made a perfect 4 for 4 on extra kicks for the white team.
MSSU opens its 2022 season against Nebraska-Kearney on Sept. 1 at Fred G. Hughes Stadium.