Late pick dooms Washburn’s chance to defeat No. 3 Northwest Missouri

Senior linebacker Bruce Ringwood had nine tackles against Northwest Missouri.

From the beginning of the season, everybody knew the final three games of Washburn’s schedule would be the toughest.

As expected, the Ichabods’ hopes of returning to the playoffs depended on how the team fared against perennial powerhouses Northwest Missouri and Pittsburg State, as well as MIAA newcomer Nebraska Omaha.

After falling short in the first of those three games Saturday, WU’s postseason hopes are still alive, but may be limited to a Mineral Water Bowl appearance.

The 24-21 loss to NWMSU was a heartbreaker because of its effect on the playoff picture, but the Bods left Yager Stadium knowing they played their most complete game of the season, holding one of the nation’s top offenses under 35 points for just the third time all season and finally stringing together back-to-back solid offensive performances.

With 3:39 remaining, the Bods took over on their own 39 and had a chance to take the lead for the first time in the game, or at least move in for a game-tying field goal.

Three consecutive incomplete passes from Dane Simoneau made a fourth down conversion improbable, and an interception near midfield made the Bods’ upset bid impossible.

Through most of the first half, the Bods were playing the same style that produced four consecutive wins against MIAA teams: finding ways to keep opponents out of the end zone, and doing just enough on offense to stay in the game.

In the second quarter, the Bearcats drove 43 yards in less than a minute before throwing two incomplete passes to bring up fourth down. WU lined up to return a punt deep in their own territory, but Miles Burnsides, who also had an interception and nine tackles, took a direct snap and ran 39 yards to the WU 1-yard line on a fake punt.

The trick play produced the only score in the first half, but both teams found the end zone on their opening drives in the third quarter.

WU’s offense found a spark, converting on fourth-and-7 and setting up a touchdown from Simoneau to tight end Cameron Knox.

“Our offense has progressed every game,” said coach Craig Schurig. “Especially these last two, we’ve stepped it up, and our defense has been good all season.”

After letting NWMSU drive to the WU 15, the defense held the Bearcats to a field goal, and Dane Simoneau continued his aerial attack on the next series.

The two score deficit was quickly erased as tight end Ryan Mertz brought down a 23-yard reception, and Drameagon Powers flew by his defender for a 37-yard touchdown.

“We’ve really gotten comfortable with our offense now, no matter who the quarterback is,” said Mertz about the rotation between Simoneau, Jake Iverson and Brandon Walker. “All three bring different things to the team so we haven’t had a problem adjusting to their styles of play.”

The Bods took a risk at the end of the third quarter, using two timeouts with hopes of using the wind to their advantage, but it backfired as the Bearcats scored another touchdown to make it 24-14.

Brandon Walker scored from 1 yard out to bring the Bods within a field goal, and WU’s defense got a crucial stop with plenty of time for one last scoring drive, but the offense was unable to pick up a first down in the closing minutes, allowing NWMSU to run the clock out inside the WU 10.

Two wins, and lots of help from other MIAA schools, could put the Bods back in the playoff picture, but after the loss, WU has little control over their postseason chances.

“You can’t think about [the playoffs] now,” said linebacker Michael Wilhoite. “At this point, we’re playing two top teams in Pitt State and Nebraska Omaha. We just have to go out, win those games and see what happens.”