Garrett Fugate threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Echols with 3:45 to play in the game and the UCM defense held up late as 20th-ranked Central Missouri rallied for an 18-17 win over Missouri Western in Thursday night's season-opener at Walton Stadium/Kennedy Field. The win for the Mules snapped a four-game losing streak against the Griffons.

The Griffons (0-1) had just extended their lead to 17-12 on a 25-yard field goal from Tanner Pettet when the Mules struck for the game-winning score. After a pair of incompletions on first and second down, Fugate hit Echols for 38 yards to the Western 42, then hit Clayton Cooper for a first down to the 37. Following a one-yard rush, Fugate hit a wide-open Echols down the middle of the field for the go-ahead score. The Mules (1-0) went for two, but did not convert keeping it a one-point game.

On the ensuing possession, the Griffons were flagged for illegal substitution on first down and on the next play, Alex Lackey picked off a Skyler Windmiller pass setting UCM up at the Griffon 30. Following a three-and-out, Billy Greco's 42-yard field goal was no good, his only miss on five attempts in the game. Missouri Western took over with 2:08 on the clock and drove into UCM territory at the 42. Jason Venckus and Travion Vaughn combined for a sack on first down and Josh Powell came up with another on third down, setting up a fourth and 24 from their own 44. Windmiller's pass fell incomplete and the Mules held on for the win.

The Griffons jumped on top 7-0 on Windmiller's 17-yard touchdown pass to Dee Toliver on their second drive of the game. The Mules responded with a 12-play, 45-yard drive, that ended with a Greco 45-yard field goal to pull UCM with 7-3.

MWSU drove deep into Mule territory on the next drive, but Austin Miller picked off a tipped pass at the UCM 13 to halt the Griffon drive. An 11-play, 76-yard drive stalled at the Griffon 11 yard line and Greco booted a 28-yard field goal to pull the Mules within 7-6.

Greco drilled his third field goal of the first half, a 31-yarder on the Mules' next drive to put UCM in front 9-7 at halftime.

Neither team did much offensively in the third quarter, but early in the fourth the Griffons struck for a one-yard touchdown run to grab a 14-9 advantage. Windmiller hit Brandynn Clark for a 69-yard completion down to the UCM one to set up the score.

On the ensuing possession, the Mules drove into Griffon territory thanks to a 42-yard strike from Fugate to Jaylen Zachery. After the drive stalled Greco nailed his fourth field goal of the game, this one from 46 yards, to pull UCM within 14-12.

Fugate finished the game 18-of-32 for 233 yards and a score. He connected with eight different receivers in the game. Cooper had a team-high five catches for 42 yards, while Zachery pulled in three balls for 83 yards. Markel Smith rushed 13 times for 48 yards in his collegiate debut.

Defensively, the Mules registered 12 tackles for loss, including 4.5 from last year's MIAA leader Venckus. Lackey and Miller had interceptions and the Mules recorded four sacks.

Windmiller finished the game 21-of-38 for 313 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for Missouri Western. The Mules held the top returner rusher in the MIAA, Raphael Spencer, to just 30 yards on 21 carries. Clark hauled in five passes for a game-high 104 yards. Toliver had four catches for 84 yards and a score.

Jonathan Owen led the Griffons with nine tackles including a sack. Donte Watkins had eight tackles and two pass break-ups.

The Mules are back in action next Thursday night at Emporia State for a 7:07 p.m. kickoff. The game will be televised on the MIAA TV Network.

(courtesy of UCM Athletics)