SHAWNEE—On Aug. 31, football once again was the hottest sport on the Oklahoma Baptist University campus. Literally.

Playing under a broiling Oklahoma sun with the thermometer soaring to 104 degrees at kick-off, the upset-minded Bison took to the gridiron at Bison Field at the Hurt Athletic Complex before a sellout crowd of 5,609 enthusiastic fans hungry for a season-opening victory.

And the Bison, playing for the first time in 73 years, almost provided one, jumping out to a 15-0 lead over the visiting Southwestern (Kan.) Moundbuilders before eventually falling 26-22 as a result of seven turnovers.

Coach Chris Jensen’s young team didn’t act like a group picked to finish last in the Central States Football League (CSFL), and fought toe-to-toe with the visitors from Kansas, even holding a lead into the second half. 

The Bison provided plenty of excitement for the raucous crowd, which included Luke Toyebo, a running back on OBU’s last football team in 1940, who took part in the pre-game ceremonies. Prior to kick-off, OBU student athletes in bright yellow T-shirts marched onto the field and unfolded a huge, 25-yard-wide U.S. flag, which they waved as the OBU band played the National Anthem.

It’s impossible to play football without a leather prolate spheroid, and OBU delivered one in first-class fashion to begin its new gridiron era. A helicopter did a fly-by over the stadium, then landed with a couple of mascots, one of whom was Shaz, the university’s new mascot, jumping out at midfield. With a smooth hand-off from his counterpart, Shaz—decked out in a white Bison uniform—delivered the official game ball to the field, and then celebrated with a back flip.

As action began, the Bison held the Moundbuilders on their first possession, and OBU quarterback Cale Grauer then found wide receiver Derek Serowski all alone behind the Southwestern secondary on the Bison’s first offensive play in seven decades for a 69-yard touchdown. Grauer connected with Serowski again on OBU’s next possession for a 19-yard scoring strike to give the Bison a two-touchdown cushion.

But, the score was only one aspect of the afternoon—which was a spectacle of Green and Gold displayed beneath brilliant azure skies and wispy white clouds, which contributed to the 114-degree heat index. The convection oven-like conditions failed to keep the fans away, even though the less hardy ones sought relief wherever they could find a splinter of shade.

A Tent City set up east of the stadium provided room for tailgaters to cook up their own pre-game experience. A few families and OBU student groups took advantage of that, as did representatives of the U.S. Army, Air Force and Marines, who, although they didn’t have grilled food, did have information for prospective recruits. Nearby, young children bounced on inflatables up until game time.

One of those grilling for a group of fellow students was junior Bible major Micah Keeney.

“I’m pretty excited,” he said as he turned over shis-kabobs. “It’s a pump for me. The student section for basketball games here at OBU is wild, and I’m excited to get to do that for football, too.”

He was expecting a successful season as game time neared.

“I think our team is going to be good this year,” Keeney beamed. “I know our coach (Jensen) is going to be good. I looked up his stats and stuff, so I know we have a good coach and a bunch of good players.”

Keeney said the addition of new sports such as football and lacrosse on campus seems to make OBU “grow up.”

“You feel like a bigger college with all of the new sports on campus that we have,” he explained.

Providing pre-game enjoyment for the fans as they marched through Tent City and into the stadium’s east gate was a group of seven bare-chested OBU male students, who had their torsos painted green, each sporting an individual yellow letter which, when lined up properly, spelled out GO BISON! Their contagious enthusiasm continued throughout the game from the north end zone to encourage the Bison and spur on their fellow students, many of whom were adorned in the same yellow T-shirts the student athletes who had hoisted the huge flag were wearing. The shirts bore the words to the OBU fight song on the back.

Oklahoma Baptist had the top athletic program in the NAIA last year, according to the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup, which was, itself, on display in  a huge tent situated just south of the south end zone. The tent was filled with Bison boosters and donors, who, no doubt, appreciated the shade it provided from the scorching sun.

While their debut was not a victorious one, the Bison aimed for their first victory against the University of St, Mary in another home game Sept. 7. They then hit the road for two weeks, at Fort Lewis College Sept. 14, and at Houston Baptist University, Sept. 28, before opening CSFL play at home Oct. 5 against Southwestern Assemblies of God University.