Emporia State senior quarterback Brent Wilson knows the importance of Saturday’s home game against Pittsburg State.
“We definitely understand that Pittsburg State, year in and year out is one of the top teams in the country,” Wilson said. “We can’t let that affect us. We are taking it one game at a time. We know Pittsburg State will bring everything they can to the table.
“Coach Garin Higgins has done a great job letting us know it is another game on our schedule. It is an important game because it is the next game. If we take that to heart and not let the emotion get the best of us, we can go out and play our brand of football and execute and everything else will take care of itself.”
By any standard, plenty is at stake when the football sails through the air for the 3 p.m.ET kickoff at Welch Stadium. Emporia State, ranked No. 18 in the AFCA top 25, is 5-0 and tied for first with Northwest Missouri State. Pittsburg State, ranked 13th, is 4-1.
Considering what Wilson has gone through the previous two seasons, it is easier for him to keep everything in perspective and not get too excited for any game. He is thankful to be on the field, playing football in final season.
As a sophomore, Wilson was having a record-breaking season. He broke a school, single-season record for touchdowns with 33 and became just the second Hornet to pass for over 3,000 yards. He helped Emporia State reach the NCAA Division II playoffs.
But in the last game of the regular season, Wilson broke his collarbone and was unable to play in the playoffs. Last year, Wilson was off to a great start, completing 61 percent of his passes, but injured his collarbone again in a double overtime win in the fourth game of the season.
“Both injuries my teammates were there for me, they were encouraging me to have a good recovery,” Wilson said. “They were always there for me. They wanted me to be healthy and back to full strength. They were pushing me to be the best I can be. The coaching staff has done that as well to be the best I can be to help this team out anyway possible.”
Wilson is having a strong return. He has thrown for an average of 352 yards per game. He has also tossed 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
But Wilson said it is the togetherness of his teammates that has allowed Emporia to start the season 5-0 after a 4-7 year in 2014. He pointed to last week’s 20-13 win over Lindenwood as one example.
“Our offense was struggling at times and our defense stepped up when it needed to and made some big stops for us and held Lindenwood to some field goals and that helped us offensively to make some plays and go down and score some touchdowns,” Wilson said.
Higgins doesn’t like to dwell on the past, but he wanted the Hornets to learn from the mistakes of last season.
“We have shown film of great effort and poor effort and letting our players see the difference and showing them what happens when you give great effort,” Higgins said.
Higgins added that it is nice to have a three-year starter back at quarterback, especially one who has persevered through physical adversity.
“It gains respect from the players,” Higgins said. “Whatever Brent says, the players will listen. He is battle tested and his work ethic has shown through to his teammates on what he does to prepare himself and coming back from these two injuries.
“They look at him not only as a great player, but also a player that never leaves a stone unturned for his preparation for each week.”
The family atmosphere at Emporia State is the thing that inspired Wilson to return for his senior season.
“For me, there is a lot more to life than football,” Wilson said. “But I wanted to give it one more shot, especially going into my senior year. The relationship I have built over the last three years from the fans to the faculty to the coaching staff to teammates, all those people, I knew I wanted to come out one more year and just enjoy another opportunity to play the game I love.”
Series history: Pittsburg State leads 59-32-2
Last meeting: Pittsburg State won 45-17 at Pittsburg, Oct. 11, 2014
Total offense: Pittsburg State, 361; Emporia State, 427
Total defense: Pittsburg State, 370; Emporia State, 355
Points scored: Pittsburg State, 35.4; Emporia State, 39.2
Points allowed: Pittsburg State, 24.2; Emporia State, 21.8
Angelo State quarterback expects tough game
Angelo State senior quarterback Kyle Washington expects the Rams to come into Saturday evening game at Texas A&M-Commerce with a chip on their shoulders and it has nothing to do with the opponent.
Angelo State, 4-1, is coming off its first loss of the season, falling to Midwestern State.
“We are hungrier this week,” Washington said. “There is a lot of energy built up to perform even better this week.”
Texas A&M-Commerce is also 4-1. Both teams are ranked in the top 25. Texas A&M-Commerce is 15th in the country and Angelo State is 16th.
Based on last year’s results, there should be offensive fireworks from the 9 p.m. ET opening kickoff to the final play. It will all be captured on ESPN3.
A year ago, Angelo State lost 41-40 to Texas A&M-Commerce in the regular season but then beat the Lions 35-33 in the Lone Star Conference playoffs.
“Even two years ago, it came down to the wire. We know it is going to be a dogfight going into it,” Washington said.
“It is a lot of fun. There is a lot of excitement going into this week of preparation. We are looking to have fanatical focus going into this week of practice and hopefully it will carry over into this weekend.”
Expect Washington to be ready. Last year Washington was selected LSC Player of the Year and LSC Academic Player of the Year.
“It was very big for our program,” Washington said. “Our coaches stress a lot of academic work as well as the community. I feel I owe it all to them for keeping me focused in academics as well as athletics.”
It is probably easy for Washington to stay humble. After all, he is from Humble, Texas.
“People around here think I am humble so I hear jokes a little bit,” Washington said.
Two miles separate Mercyhurst and Gannon
The noon ET telecast on the American Sports Network will show a city rivalry that is unlike any other in the country when Gannon plays at Mercyhurst. The two schools are less than two miles from each other in Erie, Pennsylvania.
“Erie has a great football tradition,” Mercyhurst coach Marty Schaetzle said. “They love their football. This is a big game whether we were going into it with no wins or all wins.”
Mercyhurst and Gannon will battle for city pride, the Niagara Cup and a chance to move up in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
“We are both 3-2, but we have gotten off to bad starts in the conference,” Schaetzle said. “We are 0-2 in conference. We both need this win desperately. You have two desperate teams out there.”
Schaetzle is appreciative that the game will be shown on television.
“We have had TV games, but we have not had a game on TV of this magnitude,” he said. “It is a credit to our program and Gannon’s program that our football programs have gotten to a level that we would be considered for it.
“It is great for our alumni. It helps with recruiting. It is fun for our players to play on a stage like that and family be able to watch the game. It is going to be a whole different level for them.”
Despite all the excitement surrounding the game, Schaetzle is treating it like all other games.
“We try to stay focused on the game itself, the X and O part of it,” he said. “When we talk about trying to blitz or a formation on a run play, it is all about coverage and not, it is Gannon’s coverage. It is just another play we have seen before.”
Other games to watch
No. 21 Valdosta State, 3-1, at No. 2 West Georgia, 5-0, 3 p.m. ET
Augustana, 4-1, at No. 1 Minnesota State-Mankato, 5-0, 3 p.m. ET