The Emporia State football team will host the Washburn University Ichabods at 1 p.m. this Saturday at Welch Stadium. The Hornets, who have compiled a record of 2-8, 1-7 in the MIAA, look to avenge last year’s 6-14 loss against Washburn, in which the Hornets committed four turnovers and had a punt blocked.
The Emporia State-Washburn rivalry is the most played active rivalry in NCAA Division II – Saturday’s match will be the 106th meeting in the series in which ESU leads all-time, 51-48-6. As of late, however, the Ichabods have taken advantage of the series by winning the last five meetings.
Head coach Garrin Higgins said he feels that the magnitude of the “Turnpike Tussle,” as the series is more commonly known, can be motivation enough for his Hornets.
“We know it’s a rival game – usually that in of itself takes care of getting our kids ready to play,” Higgins said. “Now we do have a lot of young football players that probably need to learn a little bit more about the rivalry than what they know about it, as far as the history of it. We’ll prepare like any other normal week, and I would think it being the seniors’ last opportunity and also an opportunity to win a big game, our kids would naturally have a good week of preparation.”
A win would end the season on a positive note for the Hornets, according to sophomore defensive end and elementary education major Daniel Webb.
“For the team, it (a win) would be tremendous,” Webb said. “Having the seniors go out with a win…and to get that final win so it kind of carries over into the off-season workouts.”
The road to the final game of the season for the Hornets wasn’t an easy one. Tough opponents, coupled with the hindrance of midseason injuries and illness have prevented the team from achieving some of their goals.
Webb said the team was well aware of the rough season ahead of them back in August.
“You never go into a season thinking, ‘OK, we’re only going to win two, three games,’” Webb said. “You’re going in this conference, and you know that each team is going to be very good…we’ve played tough teams week in and week out. That was expected that we were going to have to play tough teams, for sure.”
Higgins was incredibly optimistic about the team’s competitive schedule, but also noted that he couldn’t foresee some of the adversity that the Hornets have faced thus far.
“You always have high expectations to start the season, but you know, things like this happen, and what you have to do is just keep working, and our kids have been doing that, they really have been,” Higgins said. “I’m proud of how they’ve practiced each and every week, and we feel like we’re doing the right thing, we just have not been able to get over the hump. We know it’s going to come, and we know that we’re going to get it done – our players believe that, our coaches believe that.
It’s been a very frustrating – it’s been a very different year than probably we expected. Now we knew it was going to be tough, but just the things that have happened to us throughout the course of the year has been a lot of adversity.”
For Webb, the losing season isn’t something he wants to spill over into the off-season. Hard work and determination will aid in that effort, Webb said.
“We have a good group,” Webb said. “Each week we come out and work just as hard. We’re going to work hard this last week and this off-season and push ourselves harder. You don’t want this taste (losing) in your mouth season after the season, so I feel that it’s going to push the team extra hard in the off-season to push harder and go harder than we’ve been.”
Sophomore quarterback and recreation major Sheldon Smith said he is optimistic about Saturday’s game.
“We know that one (a win) is coming soon and this might be the one,” Smith said. “It’s a rivalry game, so you know we’re going to be pumped up for it.”
Higgins hopes to use this season’s experiences as a learning tool for his young team.
“I hope that the losing part of it doesn’t carry over, of course, but I think that what we do is we use it as something to learn from, especially from our younger kids,” Higgins said. “Hopefully we get a win Saturday to go into the off-season on a positive note.”
Shane Wilson/The Bulletin