All season long, Emporia State wanted its regular-season finale against archrival Washburn to mean something when it came to the postseason.
The No. 16 Hornets needed a win to likely sew up a playoff spot for the first time since 2003. That's exactly what they got, taking control of the game in the second quarter and withstanding a third-quarter charge to defeat the No. 23 Ichabods 34-23 at Welch Stadium.
The win, coupled with Pittsburg State's 35-21 loss to Missouri Southern, all but assures Emporia State a playoff spot. ESU held the sixth and final Super Region III playoff spot entering Saturday's game, while Pittsburg State was fifth and Washburn was ninth in the regional rankings.
Sophomore quarterback Brent Wilson factored in all three of Emporia State's first-half touchdown drives to give the Hornets a 24-6 lead at intermission -- but was injured while being sacked early in the fourth quarter and had to come out of the contest with what appeared to be at least a bruised shoulder.
Washburn had made things tense by controlling the third quarter. Joel Piper connected on a 61-yard scoring strike to Mark Fancher to bring Washburn to within 24-13 early in the third. A short field goal late in the third made the score 24-16 after three periods.
Once Wilson had to come out, reserve quarterback Corben Jones threw a 10-yard scoring pass Ray Ray Davis to give ESU a 31-16 lead. The pass followed Antonio Brown picking up 25 yards on the ground during the drive, more than the 10 yards Brown had amassed in the previous three-plus quarters.
Eli Kuhns added a 33-yard field goal with 4:58 left in the fourth to give ESU a 34-16 lead. A lengthy punt return by Washburn with under 10 seconds remaining led to the final margin.
Emporia State started against a stiff wind and moved the ball smartly down the field before stalling on its first drive, leading to Kuhns' 19-yard field goal which put ESU up 3-0 early. However, Vershon Moore's 5-yard touchdown run gave Washburn a 6-3 lead after the extra point was missed.
Wilson connected with wideout Kavaski Ervin on a 74-yard bomb as ESU claimed a 10-6 lead over No 23 Washburn at the end of the first quarter. Following a fourth-down stop inside their own 20, ESU marched down the field, with Wilson throwing a 9-yard score to Ray Ray Davis to make the score 17-6.
Wilson also ran in from three yards out to give the Hornets a 24-6 lead.
Offensively, Wilson was 25-of-35 for 362 yards, two TDs and an interception before he was injured. Jones was 1-for-3 for 10 yards and a score. Davis caught 10 passes for 158 yards and two scores.
Ervin had seven receptions for 129 yards and a TD. Brown ran the ball 15 times for 66 as the Hornets' leading ground-gainer.
ESU won the possession time battle for the first time in three weeks, holding the ball for 32:15, and had 24 first downs to Washburn's 16 but also gave up five sacks. The Hornets also outgained Washburn 436-366.
Defensively, Ashton Reichmann had nine tackles to lead ESU while Deveon Dinwiddie had eight. Kadeem Satchell and Ryan Louia each intercepted a pass.
The NCAA will make its playoff selections at 4 pm Sunday, and the public is invited to a watch party at the Memorial Union Webb Hall. The Hornets are vying for their first playoff spot since 2003, their second since moving from the NAIA to NCAA Division II and their second straight postseason appearance, something which hasn't happened for ESU since 2002-2003. The Hornets won the Kanza Bowl last year.
Washburn, meanwhile, needed a win and some help to reach the playoffs -- and may have needed some help to play in the Mineral Water Bowl on December 7.