Lincoln's Homecoming theme next week is "The Best is Yet to Come."
This is true on two levels.
One, it couldn't get much worse.
Two, they really are getting better.
Wins, for now, still remain elusive, as the Pittsburg State (Kan.) Gorillas racked up a 59-38 win over the Blue Tigers at a soggy Dwight T. Reed Stadium on Saturday.
But let's look behind that final score.
Pittsburg State (4-0, 3-0 MIAA) is ranked 12th in the nation in Division II and has been a perennial national power for many years. In their first three games, the Gorillas outscored their opponents 169-37.
Lincoln beat that total in one game.
"They put a bunch of points on the board against our defense, and I think our defense is pretty good," said Pitt State junior quarterback Anthony Abenoja, who completed 28-of-36 for a school-record 442 yards and five touchdowns. "I have to go up against these guys every day, I know.
"I knew they were going to be good, a lot better. They're a really athletic team and we knew we were going to have to play our hardest to beat them."
Early in the fourth quarter, Lincoln (1-3, 0-2) was within two touchdowns. Compare that to last year --- the Gorillas led the Blue Tigers 56-3 with five minutes left in the FIRST HALF.
At that point, Pitt State obviously called the dogs ... err ... the Gorillas off. Nothing doing Saturday.
"We're not into moral victories," Lincoln coach Mike Jones said. "That's great, we played them better than we've ever played them. But in our mindset --- if we did what we were supposed to do on offense, defense, special teams --- we had a chance to win the ball game.
"I really believe that."
Yet another sign of progress, not being satisfied with not getting blown out.
Lincoln is a program that won four games in the previous four seasons. And the defense obviously still has some issues.
"If we score 38 points," Jones said, "we should win the ball game. We just had to do a better job of stopping them, we just didn't do a very good job on defense."
True. But it wasn't from a lack of effort.
"That's our main goal this year," said Lincoln junior quarterback Jacob Morris, who was 15-of-29 for 266 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for two scores. "Nobody gives up on anybody, and nobody gives up until the whistle blows and the clock says zero.
"We're going to fight for everything."
There were a couple of key moments in this 97-point slugfest.
First, after the Gorillas had taken a 7-0 lead, the Blue Tigers put together a splendid 86-yard drive, kick-started on a 38-yard pass from Jacob Morris to Khirey Draine.
Unfortunately for the Blue Tigers, they needed 87 yards. Twice, Lincoln was stopped inside the one and they turned it over on downs.
The Gorillas responded with 13-play, 99-yard drive to make it 14-0 early in the second quarter.
"That was a 14-point turnaround," Jones said. "Instead of it being 7-7, it was 14-0. We still had our opportunities in the game, but we didn't do it."
The next big play came late in the first half. The Gorillas eventually built a 21-0 lead, before the Blue Tigers closed within 21-10 on a 55-yard strike from Morris to Draine and a 28-yard field goal by Andrew Fishel.
Pitt State faced a 4th-and-10 with 30 seconds left in the half at the LU 29, when John Brown hauled in a scoring pass from Abenoja --- a pass just inches from being swatted down by Andre Borney --- to make it an 18-point halftime lead.
"That was against probably the best offensive player in Division II football," Jones said of Brown, who caught nine passes for 237 yards and four touchdowns. Brown also broke the school's career receiving yardage make with Saturday's effort.
"He made some plays ... he's an All-American for a reason."
While the Blue Tigers rolled up 527 yards of offense, the Gorillas --- who led 45-24 after three quarters --- totaled an eye-popping 777 yards.
"They're good, they're very good, and we knew that coming in," Jones said. "But we gave them too many things, as well. We missed too many tackles, we missed too many chances to make plays.
"These guys are good enough without us messing up. We have to make sure that we do what we're supposed to do and make them beat us."
Running back Morris Henderson enjoyed a noteworthy day for Lincoln --- 14 carries for 157 yards and two touchdowns, while catching four passes for 87 yards.
"He has all the ability in the world," Jones said of the junior from Jacksonville, Fla. "He's a dynamic young player."
Draine had a pair of touchdown catches for Lincoln, which hosts Emporia State for Homecoming at 2 p.m. Saturday.
In years past, the highlight of these games would have been the Lincoln band, which is still great. But now, there's entertainment value on the field, as well.
"At times, we played in spurts and we were just as good as they were," Jones said. "We have to play all the time like that, that's where we're trying to get to as a team.
"We need to get our guys to play the best they can play, every single play. When that happens, we can be a pretty good team."
The game was played in front of the biggest Lincoln home crowd in a long, long time. Perhaps decades.
What a welcome sight, indeed.
"Our guys love to see bodies in the stands and people supporting them," Jones said. "The community has been fantastic ... they're really starting to embrace Lincoln University football. I can't thank them enough.
"We just have to keep on building on it."
Here's hoping next week's crowd will be even bigger.
Because by all appearances, the best is yet to come.
ONE OF THOSE in attendance Saturday was Thomas LePage, a redshirt freshman quarterback at Pittsburg State.
So far, so good, said the 2013 graduate of Jefferson City High School.
"It's going well," LePage said. "It's pretty much the same thing as here (with the Jays), a lot of tradition and a lot of guys who love playing football.
"From an athletic standpoint, guys are a lot bigger, they're a lot faster. But it's still football. It just takes a little getting used to."
LePage was an All-State pick on the Coaches Team last year after throwing for 1,650 yards and 15 touchdowns, and rushing for 628 yards and nine scores.
For the first time in nine years, however, LePage won't take part in an actual game.
"I'm not disappointed at all, I expected it (to be redshirted)," he said. "But it is different; it's tough to stand on the sidelines and just watch."