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Second-half surge leads Washburn to overtime victory over Fort Hays State

By Kyle Manthe

The Washburn Review 

Just like the last time the two played in 2019, Washburn football and Fort Hays State would need more than 60 minutes to settle the score Saturday.

This time around it would be the Ichabods who walked off with a 23-20 MIAA victory to move to 4-2 on the season and remain undefeated at Yager Stadium.

“That was fun, we haven’t had one of those in awhile, we haven’t had a walk-off in awhile so that was cool,” said Washburn coach Craig Schurig.

JJLetcher2Washburn senior receiver James Letcher Jr. caught the game-winning touchdown pass in Saturday's 23-20 overtime win over Fort Hays State. [Photo by Rex Wolf/TSN]

WUjubeFHSUWashburn coach Craig Schurig gets out of the way as the Ichabods celebrate Saturday's 23-20 overtime win over Fort Hays State. [Photo by Rex Wolf/TSN] 

After scoring at least 24 points in each game, offense was hard to come by for Washburn in the Hall of Fame game.

The Ichabods' offense in the first half gained only 122 yards on the way to its first scoreless half of the year.

Washburn’s offense moved into Tigers territory on three separate occasions in the first half but stalled each time. Play calling was aggressive, with four first-down attempts in the half, but limited with windy conditions and an injury to starting sophomore kicker Kameron Lake.

“You got to hand it to Hays, they did a great job defensively, they were knifing through our line, we haven’t had problems like that all year where we had negative plays,” said Schurig.

But the defense held its own, allowing only 7 points on nine first downs in the half. The damage could have been worse if not for a blocked field goal attempt by senior defensive back Marquise Manning in the second quarter.

“The guys did a great job, Hays does a lot of good stuff on offense, a lot of tricky things you got to prepare for, things you don’t see every game and our guys responded really well,” said co-defensive coordinator Zach Watkins who was inducted into the Washburn Athletics Hall of Fame Saturday.

Wide receiver James Letcher Jr. was big on the Ichabods' first score in the third quarter. A penalty on a pass intended for him moved the ball into Tigers territory, setting up a 35-yard touchdown throw to Letcher from senior quarterback Mitch Schurig down the middle of the field. 

“We were down in the first half, didn’t have a lot of energy and came out in the second half ready to fight and ready to play,” said Letcher Jr. who finished with two touchdowns in the game.

The passing attack of Fort Hays did not relent as they drove down the field and capitalized on a rare miscue in the Ichabods' secondary, walking in a 36-yard touchdown throw from Chance Fuller to Josh Okechukwu. Washburn countered with a 35-yard field goal from freshman Trenton Brehm to steed off momentum and put the Ichabods within four.

The fourth quarter began with a big third-down sack by senior defensive end Malik Fall, forcing a quick end to the drive. On the ensuing Washburn drive junior wide receiver Peter Afful continued to make highlight-worthy catches, leaping over a defender on the left sideline and racing 35 yards down the field for a 65-yard touchdown to take the lead.

Both offenses were quiet until Fort Hays was able to manufacture an 11-play drive, setting up a 31-yard field goal to tie the game with just under a minute remaining, forcing overtime.

The Tigers started with the ball in overtime and were limited to just four plays with the last being a 33-yard field goal, giving the Ichabods an opportunity to win. The offense would not leave the door open as they would walk off on a diving catch by Letcher Jr right at the goal line to end the game at 23-20.

“I just ran a simple post, the corner was lined up outside of me and my quarterback, who is a great quarterback, checked me to a different call, so I ran that and we made it happen,” said Letcher Jr.

For the Tigers, two Topeka products made plays as Highland Park alum Will White recorded four tackles and former Washburn Rural Jr. Blue Tyler Cummings three tackles.

Washburn will be back at home next Saturday as Northwest Missouri State visits Yager Stadium.

WASHBURN 23, FORT HAYS STATE 20

FORT HAYS (3-3, 3-3) 7 0 7 3 3

WASHBURN (4-2, 4-2) 0 0 10 7 6

First quarter

Fort Hays -- Budke 5 pass from Fuller (Avila-Castro kick), 3:06.

Third quarter

Washburn –- Letcher Jr. 35 pass from Schurig (Brehm kick), 9:41.

Fort Hays -- Okechukwu 36 pass from Fuller (Avila-Castro kick), 4:39.

Washburn –- Brehm 35 kick, 1:08.

Fourth quarter

Washburn -- Afful 65 pass from Schurig (Brehm kick), 10:33.

Fort Hays –- Avila-Castro 31 kick, 0:58.

Overtime

Fort Hays -- Avila-Castro 33 kick

Washburn – Letcher Jr. 19 pass from Schurig

Individual statistics

Rushing -- Fort Hays: Soto 12-40, Waiters 2-18, Chapman 7-16, Fuller 6-10. Washburn: Peters 14-66, Willis 13-41, Letcher Jr. 1-9

Passing -- Fort Hays: Fuller 27-37-0, 319 yards. Washburn: Schurig 25-31-0, 282 yards.

Receiving -- Fort Hays: Okechukwu 5-108, Ramsey 7-85, Budke 6-53, Burchfield 2-27, Schremmer, 3-26, Soto 4-20. Washburn: Afful 4-105, Letcher Jr. 5-56, Williams 4-50, Simmons 3-28, Peters 4-19, Pivarnik 3-18, Browning 1-6, Willis 1-0.

Punting -- Fort Hays: Sossen 4-141. Washburn: Spiker 3-123.

Tackles -- Fort Hays: Menges 11 solo-3 assist-14 total. Washburn: Neal 7-3-10, Lane 5-4-9, Barnett-Kruger 6-1-7.

Attendance – 6,129