It was 12 seasons ago that the Mules football program last finished a season with a losing record. The 2018 season ends more than a decade of winning football in Warrensburg as the Mules fell to 5-6 in a 48-21 loss to rival Northwest Missouri State at home Saturday in the season finale.
The Mules were coming off their first road win of the season at Lindenwood and had put together two-straight wins following their midseason three-game losing streak. The loss Saturday marked the first losing season in head coach Jim Svoboda’s 16-year head coaching career.
“I don’t know if I’ve digested it exactly,” Svoboda said. “This is one of the most optimistic seasons going into a season since I’ve been here. You’ve got a returning All-American quarterback, you’ve got a number of returning skill kids. It seemed like we got gut punched multiple times starting with (Brook) Bolles, but those injuries happen.”
The Bearcats had everything to play for following their second loss of the season to Fort Hays State the week prior. A Northwest win would clinch a share of the MIAA Championship for the Bearcats.
It was all Northwest from the opening kickoff.
The Bearcats marched down the field on the opening drive, going 85 yards in six plays to take a 7-0 lead.
The Mules offense was ineffective in the first quarter, gaining 31 total yards on their three drives in the first.
The Bearcats defense took an interception off of sophomore quarterback Kyle Bradley deep into Mules territory to set up another touchdown, giving Northwest a 14-0 lead at the end of the first.
The second quarter was the same story for the Mules who still couldn’t get their offense going.
The Bearcats went into halftime leading 24-0. In two quarters, the Mules had managed just 34 yards of total offense to the Bearcats’ 273 yards.
The Mules offense continued to trend downward and went through a dismal stretch of six-straight drives ending in punts. Central Missouri failed to cross midfield on offense until the fourth quarter when they trailed 45-0.
The offense woke up in the fourth and was able to put up 21 points on their final three drives of the game to advance the Mules scoring streak to 300 games.
“One thing it makes you wonder; if we can figure out how to do that in the first and second quarter, you get some points on the board instead of the last few minutes of the game,” Svoboda said.
Senior wide receiver Kyrion Parker made his last game as a Mule special. He led all receivers with 94 yards and scored two impressive touchdowns in double coverage.
“It was exciting,” Svoboda said. “He’s a special player that we’re going to miss.”
Svoboda said the defense is a point of improvement as the offseason begins.
“We have to get better there,” he said. “We have to get some injured guys healthy and grow up some guys. Today was pretty clear to me there was a physical difference between the two teams and that’s something we can control through recruiting and our offseason workouts.”
Svoboda said the Mules struggles this season came from injuries and lack of depth.
“We have some young talented kids and we have to grow them up,” he said. “We got into a situation where we had to play too many of them. There was a combination of reasons for that, one of them was injuries and one of them was we had a gap in our recruiting class from 2015.”
The Mules used a total of eight true freshmen this season, a total that is higher than Svoboda’s seven previous seasons with the Mules combined. They worked mostly out of a two-quarterback system for the second half of the season deploying both Bradley and freshman Jeremy Hunt.
Svoboda said using both quarterbacks proved to be beneficial for them but hinted at the possibility of Bolles returning next season.
“I think it is still difficult to do,” he said on a two-quarterback system. “I was proud of them because, in reality, I think it helped both of them out, took a little pressure off of them. Brook (Bolles) is hopefully going to be back and we know what he can do so I think that’ll make everybody better.”
Ultimately, the Mules go into the offseason with a sour taste in their mouths but are aware that there are a lot of impactful players returning for next season.
“Frustrating day; hopefully we can flush this as soon as possible,” Svoboda said. “ The best way is to just get back to work and set our sights on not letting this happen again.”