By Nick Hampton
TAHLEQUAH- Life in the MIAA is tough enough when you have four teams ranked in the Division II top 25.
But try doing it with several of your key players out of action, throw in untimely turnovers and penalties and it becomes a receipt for disaster. Just ask the Northeastern State RiverHawks.
With senior quarterback Johnny Deaton and leading rusher Joel Rockmore both on the sidelines among others, the RiverHawk offense struggled as the No. 22-ranked Washburn University Ichabods (3-0) rolled over Northeastern State (0-3) 48-3 in MIAA action Saturday evening at Gable Field Doc Wadley Stadium.
“We’ve got eight guys out who were starters at one time during the season,” said six year RiverHawk coach Kenny Evans. “But that’s no excuse because we’ve got some good backups. They’re just young. The three turnovers that led to three of their touchdowns in the first half gave us no chance.”
Indeed, the RiverHawk defense did a yeoman’s job as the offense repeatedly gave the Ichabods short field situations. Starting from their own 12-yard line on the opening possession, the RiverHawks were forced to punt, giving Washburn the ball at midfield. They moved the ball to the NSU 4-yard line but on a 4th-and-goal from the three, Muskogee’s Kyler Harris intercepted Washburn quarterback Mitch Buhler in the end zone and returned it to the 3-yard line.
Another three and out by the NSU offense gave the Ichabods the ball at the RiverHawk 36. Seven plays later, after the NSU defense again bent but did not break, Justin Linn knocked through a 40-yard field goal to make it 3-0 with 6:42 to play in the first quarter.
The wheels began to fall off for the RiverHawks early in the second quarter as Washburn scored 21 points in a 98-second span. Following a Washburn interception at the NSU 29 yard line, Donnie Lockhart took it in from four yards out to make it 10-0.
Following the kickoff, Evans tried to shake the offense up by inserting Prince McJunkins at quarterback for Thor Long. The Wagoner high product fumbled on the first play and Washburn recovered at the RiverHawk 27.
Lockhart knifed through for Washburn on the next play to make it 17-0. Following the Ichabods’ kickoff, NSU ran three plays before Long’s pass was picked off at the NSU 35 and returned for a touchdown, completing the 21-point run and making it a 24-0 Washburn lead with 10:43 left in the half.
The Ichabods completed their first half scoring with a 21-yard field goal to make it 27-0 at intermission. For the game, Long was intercepted five times, the most since Northeastern joined the NCAA in 1980.
The RiverHawks got their only points early in the third quarter. After intercepting a Washburn pass, one of three the Ichabods gave up on the night, NSU moved from their own 35 and, aided by 45 yards In Washburn penalties, got the ball to the 14-yard line before calling on Drew Patton to toe through a 30-yard field goal making it 27-3 with 10:18 left in the quarter.
NSU special teams also had a letdown in the third quarter as Washburn’s Jamie Meyers fielded a Dylan Beer’s punt and raced 69 yards for an Ichabod score.
The RiverHawks had one other good scoring opportunity in the fourth quarter. Long found Steffon Herd streaking down the boundary but his perfect pass was dropped by Herd who had four steps on the nearest defender.
Two more Washburn touchdown passes in the fourth quarter led to the final scoring margin.
Despite the lopsided score, Evans wasn’t too disappointed in the play of his defense.
“You just can’t give a good team like Washburn that many short field chances and expect to win,” said Evans. “Our defense did some good things given the position they were in most of the game.”
On the plus side, it was a great night for Kyler Harris, who finished with a career high 14 tackles and had two interceptions in the game.
“It was a good game. God helps me on every single play and I thank Him for that,” said the former Rougher. “Our defense is very young and we’ve been put in situations where we’ve had to go without some guys who have gotten hurt. We’ve just to eliminate those mistakes to have more success.”
The RiverHawks continue MIAA play next week as they travel to Emporia State.
WASHBURN 48 NSU 3
Washburn 3 24 7 14–48
NSU 0 0 3 0–3
WASH- Justin Linn 40 field goal 6:42
WASH- Donnie Lockhart 4 run (Linn kick) 12:01
WASH- Lockhart 27 run (Linn kick) 11:38
WASH- Bryce Atagi 35 intercept return (Linn kick) 10:43
WASH- Linn 21 field goal 3:25
NSU-Drew Patton 30 field goal 10:18
WASH- Jamie Meyers 69 punt return 4:09
WASH-Tore’ Hurst 26 pass from Mitch Buhler (Linn kick) 12:05
WASH- Brad Gourley 3 pass from Joel Piper 9:19
First downs 18 12
Rushes-yards 36-199 38-53
Passing yards 171 106
Passes (cai) 11-34-5 10-34-3
Fumbles lost 0-0 1-1
Punts avg 3-44.3 12-32.8
Penalties-yds 7-75 9-90
Rushing – WASH Lockhart 12-92 NSU Terrance Dixon 17-23
Rushing – WASH Buhler 10-30-2 168 NSU Long 10-34-3 106
RECEIVING-WASH Hurst 6-103 NSU Jordan Robinson 2-43