CANTON, Mo, -- In an all-too-familiar position midway through the fourth quarter Saturday, the Culver-Stockton College football team made a statement.
No more to being a downtrodden program. No more to giving up when things get tough. No more to losing.
After Central Methodist scored twice in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter to take a 22-20 lead, C-SC answered. A pair of touchdowns and a crucial takeaway in the final six minutes allowed the Wildcats to secure a 35-22 victory at NX Level Field and start a season 2-0 for the first time since 2014.
"It speaks to the coaches for instilling the want and the drive for us to go out and win now," C-SC senior wide receiver Denzel Campbell said. "It used to be we'd get down, and the whole sideline was down. We work so hard, so this is the fruits of our labor."
It might just be a cornerstone moment.
A third straight victory -- the Wildcats won the final game of the 2017 season -- marks the first time since 2014 C-SC has enjoyed a three-game winning streak. More important, it's the first fourth-quarter comeback since beating Peru State 24-14 in Nov. 2014.
"There were a lot of times during the game we could have given up and become the program everyone says we are or thinks we are," said second-year C-SC coach Tom Sallay, who got a 305-yard passing performance from sophomore quarterback Korbin Marcum. "We didn't. We decided that we're done with that. We're going to overcome it. Our guys just let it go and got better."
A lot of that had to do with being able to run the ball.
The Wildcats had only 14 yards rushing on 13 carries through three quarters. They churned out 87 yards on 17 carries in the fourth quarter and held possession for nearly 13 of the final 15 minutes.
The Wildcats ran the ball on 11 of 19 plays and had 59 yards on the final two scoring drives.
"You have to thank the five men up front," said sophomore running back Jordan Grant, who scored the final touchdown on a 10-yard run and finished with 40 yards on 11 carries. "They paved the way."
Sallay said the offensive line got fed up with not moving the ball efficiently.
"It's like when you're fighting the bully, and he smacks you around and you just take it," Sallay said. "At some point, you have to decide, ĎAm I ever going to smack back?' Our o-line and our running backs decided it was time for us to smack back a little bit."
That was sort of the theme throughout.
C-SC led 13-6 at halftime before Central Methodist used a 69-yard completion on third and 5 to set up Dantae Vandeven's 1-yard touchdown run. The Wildcats' Brody Hassel blocked the extra point, and Campbell followed with the special teams play of the game.
He returned the ensuing kickoff 87 yards for a 20-12 lead that never let the Eagles gather any momentum.
"When I caught it, I saw the lane," Campbell said. "I just went off instincts. I burst it."
Unfortunately, Sallay didn't see it. He was talking to the defense before he realized what was happening.
"I heard the crowd cheering," Sallay said. "By the time I could run through the mass of humanity that was our sideline, he was already in the end zone."
Central Methodist used a field goal and a 20-yard touchdown pass by Vandeven to take a 28-22 lead with 11:58 to play. It could have been over at that point, and in the past, it might have been.
A 14-play, 75-yard drive capped by Marcum's 3-yard touchdown pass to Mateen Johnson got the lead back.
"A huge step," Grant said. "Last year, if they scored a touchdown, everyone just laid back and it was over. Now that we have that fight in us, we can continue moving forward."
Culver-Stockton 35, Central Methodist 22
20 First downs 26
31-38 Rushing 30-101
280 Passing 305
318 Total yards 406
14-39-1 Comp-Att-Int 39-47-0
1-0 Fumbles-lost 1-1
4-28 Penalties-yards 12-95
Central Methodist 0 6 6 10 -- 22
Culver-Stockton 3 10 7 15 -- 35
C-SC--Ben Workman 29 FG, 9:38
C-SC--Jordan Grant 5 pass from Korbin Marcum (Workman kick), 14:54
C-SC--Workman 26 FG, 7:42
CMU--Sam Petrin 20 FG, 3:13
CMU--Petrin 28 FG, 0:28
CMU--Dantae Vandeven 1 run (kick failed), 2:37
C-SC--Denzel Campbell 87 kickoff return (Workman kick), 2:21
CMU--Petrin 21 FG, 14:41
CMU--Makiah Waibel 26 pass from Vandeven (Petrin kick), 11:58
C-SC--Mateen Johnson 3 pass from Marcum (Nathan Barnes pass from Marcum), 6:32
C-SC--Grant 10 run (Workman kick), 3:05
RUSHING--Central Methodist, Kaylon Johnson 14-45, Damontay Allen 1-6, Dantae Vandeven 10-3, Shad Alexander 4-3, Nathan Hampton 2-(-19). Culver-Stockton, Nathan Barnes 15-80, Jordan Grant 11-36, Team 1-0, Reggie Foster 1-0, Korbin Marcum 2-(-15).
PASSING--Central Methodist, Vandeven 14-39-1-280.Culver-Stockton, Marcum 39-47-0-305.
RECEIVING--Central Methodist, Allen 6-133, Garan Evans 4-83, Makiah Waibel 3-47, Johnson 1-17. Culver-Stockton, Connor Perrine 11-64, Stephen Murphy 9-72, Denzel Campbell 8-86, Mateen Johnson 4-38, Grant 3-13, Nathan Barnes 2-20, Alex Nicks 2-12.