By RICK PETERSON
Thursday's 2023 home-opener was painful for Washburn University's football team both on the scoreboard and the injury report;
Washburn (0-2, 0-2) saw its seven-game winning streak over Missouri Southern (1-1 overall, 1-1 MIAA) come to an end Thursday night at Yager Stadium as the Ichabods potential game-tying touchdown was picked off in the end zone in the closing seconds, allowing Missouri Southern to close out a 30-23 MIAA victory.
"We gave up the ball and they came down and scored and we made a nice drive at the end and they came up with a big play,'' Washburn coach Craig Schurig said.
The Ichabods also suffered injuries to several key players, including standout quarterback Kellen Simoncic, who left the game with a shoulder injury after missing the end of the '22 season with a similar injury.
"He hurt his shoulder with the way he landed,'' Schurig said. "It's a bad deal for him. He had worked his tail off and is really just a great leader on our team and a great player. We'll just have to wait and see (about the injury).''
Also suffering game-ending injuries were junior running back Tyler Bowden, junior safety Jordan Finnesy and sophomore defensive end Phoenix Smith.
"Last week we kind of got out of the game unscathed and this week they were dropping,'' Schurig said. "I don't know the ins and outs of everybody, where they are, but it was some of our main dudes.''
After the Lions took a 30-23 lead with 3:22 to play in the game, Washburn drove down to the Southern 5-yard line before freshman quarterback Sam Van Dyne's pass was intercepted off a tipped ball and the Lions ran out the clock for their first win in Topeka since a 17-14 win on Oct. 23, 1997.
The Lions took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards in eight plays to go up 7-0 but the Ichabods then scored 13-straight points to take a 13-7 lead into the halftime break.
Simoncic got the Ichabods on the scoreboard with a 1-yard plunge with 40 seconds left in the first quarter, capping an 11-play, 68-yard drive to tie the score at 7-7.
Washburn's next two scoring drives were finished-off by Trenton Brehm field goals of 32 and 26 yards, with his second field goal coming as the first half ended after C.J. Callaghan's first career interception..
The Lions scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the third quarter before adding a field goal on a third drive to take a 23-13 lead with 1:26 to play in the third.
Washburn got back in the game 15 seconds later, however, with freshman D.J. Bell returning the Lions' kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to cut the Southern lead to 23-20.
"That just felt like high school right there,'' said Bell, a native of Alma, Ga. "That was just instincts, that's all.''
The 100-yard return was the fourth 100-yard return in program history and the first since James Letcher Jr.'s return against Fort Hays State on Sept. 21, 2019.
Brehm's 26-yard field with 8:50 to go in the game knotted the score at 23, but the Lions took the lead for good on their next drive to go up seven points.
WU senior Taylon Peters had a career-high 27 carries and tied a career-high with 123 rushing yards while eclipsing the 2,000-yard mark for his career.
Van Dyne completed nine of 17 passes for 61 yards after taking over for Simoncic.
Bell led the Ichabods with seven receptions for 64 yards and added 123 more yards in returns.
Defensively, Braylon Alexander and Patrick Altenor both had seven tackles and Hayden product Brent Peavler added six stops.
The Lions outgained the Ichabods 335 yards to 310.
Washburn will be back in action on the road at Lincoln next Thursday in a non-conference game in Jefferson City, Mo.
"We just have to come back Monday and practice even harder,'' Bell said. "Everybody takes losses, you've just got to bounce back, that's all.''
MISSOURI SOUTHERN 30, WASHBURN 23
Missouri Southern (1-1, 1-1) 7 0 16 7 -- 30
Washburn (0-2, 0-2) 7 6 7 3 -- 23
Missouri Southern -- Gilmore 21 run (Reese kick), 11:24
Washburn -- Simoncic 1 run (Brehm kick), 0:40
Washburn -- Brehm 32 FG, 4:37
Washburn -- Brehm 26 FG, 0:00
Missouri Southern -- Lang 21 pass from Sampson (Reese kick), 11:46
Missouri Southern -- Stoshak 44 pass from Sampson (kick failed), 9:47
Missouri Southern -- Reese 49 FG, 1:26
Washburn -- Bell 100 kickoff return (Brehm kick), 1:11
Washburn -- Brehm 26 FG, 8:50
Missouri Southern -- Cooper 10 pass from Sampson (Reese kick), 3:22
Rushing -- Missouri Southern: Ashley 9-45, Marlow 5-26, Gilmore 2-22, Glades 7-20, Bethune 1-(minus)-1, Team 1-(minus)-1, Sampson 3-(minus)-11. Washburn: Peters 27-123, Bowden 6-27, Carter 4-16, Van Dyne 1-6, Walker 1-4, Haverkamp 1-0, Haynes 0-(minus)-3, Simoncic 4-(minus)-6.
Passing -- Missouri Southern: Sampson 14-23-1, 235 yards. Washburn: Simoncic 11-13-0, 82.
Receiving -- Missouri Southern: Stoshak 4-93, Lang 4-77, Gilmore 2-8, Campbell 1-36, Cooper 1-10, Marlow 1-7, Ashley 1-4. Washburn: Bell 7-64, Peters 4-17, Harmison 3-27, Wilson 2-11, Bowden 2-10, Brown 1-12, Searcy 1-2.
Punting -- Missouri Southern: Cory 5-42.2. Washburn: Zeller 3-45.0; Wilhelm 2-35.0.
Tackles -- Missouri Southern: Winder 6 solo-8 assist-14 total, Bergmann 8-4-12, Djibril8-2-10. Washburn: Alexander 3-4-7, Altenor 2-5-7, Peavler 2-4-6.