By RICK PETERSON
It's been a tough fall for the Washburn University football team, with the Ichabods 1-5 overall and 0-5 in the MIAA.
But the Ichabods figure to be fired up when they make the short trip to Emporia Saturday to face longtime rival Emporia State for the 119th time in a 1 p.m. MIAA contest at Welch Stadium.
"That's what's cool about college football because rivalry weeks matter and if the team's not having a good year it helps to give them something to fight for,'' Washburn coach Craig Schurig said. "It's a big deal.''
Washburn is coming off a 61-21 MIAA loss to Missouri Western while Emporia State is 4-2 overall and 3-2 in the MIAA after the Hornets' comeback at No. 3-ranked Pittsburg State came up short in a 33-25 loss.
The Washburn-Emporia State series is the second-most played series in NCAA Division II history. The Hornets lead the all-time series 59-53-6, winning the last two meetings and 10 of the last 12 after the Ichabods had won 10 of 11 meetings between 2002 and 2011, including a streak of eight in a row between 2004 and 2011.
Schurig said despite the Ichabods' problems this fall, including a rash of early-season injuries, he has been proud of his team's work ethic and attitude.
"Our practices are good,'' Schurig said. "They go at it in practice and we play sections of the game like we practice and then something goes south and we fall off a cliff for minutes and then we try to battle back. But the kids have been good.
"Their attitude's been good and they compete in practice.''
Ichabod senior running back Taylon Peters has climbed into sixth on Washburn's all-time rushing chart with 2,295 yards while his 495 carries is tied for seventh all-time at WU.
The Ichabods have played 14 true freshmen so far this season and have also played 18 redshirt freshmen.
Washburn freshman D.J. Bell is 16th in the nation in kickoff return average at 28.5 per return.
Bell leads the team with 14 plays of more than 20 yards, including 10 kickoff returns of more than 20 yards.
Bell is also second in the MIAA in all-purpose yards per game with 118.8.
The Ichabods are looking to avoid their first 0-6 start to MIAA play since the 1993 season when they started 0-10 in league play.
Schurig is Washburn's all-time winningest football coach with 138 wins and is 11-9 against Emporia State.
Emporia State quarterback Braden Gleason leads the nation in pass completion percentage at 73.6 completing, 171 of 232 passes with 20 touchdowns and only one interception for 1,902 yards (317.0 per game)
ESU's Jaylen Varner is second in the MIAA in receiving yards per game at 94.2 per contest and has 40 catches for 565 yards and seven touchdowns. Tyler Kahmann is third in the MIAA in receiving with 45 receptions for 470 yards and eight touchdowns at 78.3 yards per game.
The Ichabods will return to Topeka to play their next two games in Yager Stadium, facing Fort Hays State on Oct. 21 at 1 p.m. and Northwest Missouri on Oct. 28 at 1 p.m. for Homecoming.