“One of the gutsiest performances I have ever seen out of a quarterback in all my years of coaching,” said Head Coach Garin Higgins of senior quarterback Tyler Eckenrode’s 299-yard performance in the second half against Southwest Baptist on Saturday in Bolivar, Mo.
And Eckenrode used those 299 yards and three touchdowns to erase a 15-point deficit, as the Hornets won 19-15. Their record now stands 6-0.
But what made Eckenrode’s performance more impressive as he moved to 2nd place in all-time career yards at ESU is that he did all this on practically one leg.
Emporia State was down for the first time this season when they took on the Bearcats. SBU’s Chris Muhammad returned the opening kick-off 98 yards, and the Bearcats started out with a 6-0 lead 15 seconds into the game. Before the quarter was up, the Bearcats beefed up the score when they tackled senior running back Derwin Hall for a safety as they moved up 8-0. Just when it seemed things couldn’t be worse for the Hornets, Eckenrode was taken out of the game on the final drive of the first quarter with a groin injury.
“I just planted wrong in the mud on one of my early scrambles,” Eckenrode, a management information systems major, said.
But as he recovered on the sidelines, the hopes of the high powered-offense were handed to freshman quarterback Brent Wilson, ESU with an 8-point deficit.
SBU capitalized on the momentum and as they tried for two of the next four drives. Only one of them resulted in a score for SBU, an 8-yard touchdown run for Bearcat senior quarterback Dan Conners. The Hornets went into the half down 15-0.
“I told the offense at the half that everything bad that could have happened, happened to us in the first half, but that’s why they play four quarters,” Higgins said.
In the second half, the offense got back on track behind returning quarterback Eckenrode. It took less than four minutes for the Hornets to get on the board, thanks to a 43-yard touchdown pass from Eckenrode to senior receiver Shjuan Richardson.
“(It was) just a simple vertical route,” Richardson, a recreation major, said. “I had to make the play when my number was called, so we could start to rally our offense back up.”
They weren’t done, though, as Eckenrode hobbled down the field to lead the Hornets on another scoring drive, this one connecting with senior receiver Adam Schiltz with 36 seconds left to come within two points, 15-13.
The Hornets took their first lead of the game when Eckenrode connected on a 73-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Austin Willis. The Hornets took a 19-15 lead with 12:29 left to go in the game.
The defense stepped up to seal a Hornet victory with two fourth down stops in the final five minutes. The last stop was the icing on the cake when the defense stopped SBU from scoring in the final seconds of the game on the 7-yard line.
Defensively, the Hornets played resilient and were led by senior defensive captain and middle linebacker Ben Carlson with 15 tackles. Jeff Richards, senior defensive back, came in second with eight tackles against the SBU offense.
Offensively, Shiltz led the way with seven catches for 83 yards and a score. Sophomore running back Jordan Tice led the ground game with 12 carries for 67 yards. Eckenrode was flawless as he went 17 of 19 for 322 yards, 299 culminating in his decision to come back in the second half.
“I just know those guys would have done the same for me,” Eckenrode said. “The biggest difference in the second half was this team showed a lot of heart.”
ESU will take on Lindenwood University during the Homecoming match at 2 p.m. Saturday at Welch Stadium.