Late in the fourth quarter on Sunday, with Kingsville nipping on their heels, 35-31, senior quarterback Tyler Eckenrode connected with senior wide receiver Shjuan Richardson on a 75-yard statement pass. That touchdown was heard ‘round Topeka as it helped the Hornets move to 10-2 as the Kanza Bowl Champions. Emporia State beat the 6-6 Texas A&M – Kingsville Javelinas, 45-38.
“That wasn’t the route he was supposed to run, but Shjuan saw the corner gliding, so he ran by him, and Eck put it in his hands,” said Head Coach Garin Higgins.
But what turned into an offensive juggernaut didn’t look so good in the beginning, as neither team was able to get much going.
“There were some nerves in the beginning,” Eckenrode, management information systems major, said. “I didn’t play too well, but like we have done all year, we did a great job picking each other up.”
After a scoreless first quarter in front of a record setting Kanza Bowl crowd, Kingsville got on the board first with a 31-yard rushing touchdown.
Then, after a fumble recovery that set them up at the 47-yard line, Eckenrode connected with senior tight end Adam Schiltz three plays later for a 23-yard score to knot it up.
The Hornets’ next and final series just before half secured their first lead of the game when junior receiver Ray Ray Davis showed off his arm in the red zone, finding Shiltz for a 7-yard touchdown.
Richardson and Eckenrode connected on their first deep play of the game coming out of the half for a Kanza Bowl record 77-yard touchdown pass with thirteen minutes to go, boosting the Hornets up 21-7.
Both teams put points on the board in the third quarter, starting with a 31-yard touchdown pass for Kingsville to pull within seven points of the Hornets.
Senior defensive back Jeff Richards returned the ensuing kickoff to the opposing 21. That set up the Hornets up for a two-play drive that resulted in a 4-yard touchdown pass between Eckenrode and Davis.
The Javelinas responded with 10 straight points to close out the third, finding themselves down just 28-24.
On just the second play of the fourth quarter, junior defensive back Chris Poston picked off Kingsville and returned it 41 yards before being brought down at the opposing 21.
This set the Hornets up again on another scoring drive, this one aided by a few penalties that kept the drive alive but resulted in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Eckenrode to Shiltz.
In the longest scoring drive of the game, Kingsville marched down the field in 13 plays, taking three minutes to set up a 6-yard touchdown pass to pull within 35-31.
That’s when Richardson changed his route in mid-stride. Eckenrode saw and placed the ball right in his hands for the 77-yard score with four minutes to go to. That was the icing on the cake as the Hornets went on to win the fourth Kanza Bowl.
Kingsville’s backup senior quarterback Ben Ehrlich went 36-65 and 418 yards, in a losing effort, in large part because of his four interceptions.
“We just put some pressure on him,” said Jordan Sanders, junior linebacker and sociology major. “That just goes back to players doing what they are supposed to be doing.”
Sanders hauled in one of those interceptions and led the team with 15 tackles. Poston recorded one as well and came in second with 11 tackles.
Offensively, Eckenrode tied a school record for most touchdowns in a game with five of those coming off a 25-32 for 303-yard performance. Shiltz led the way in receptions with eight catches for 65 yards and three scores. Richardson ended his career with a 193-yard performance and two touchdowns.