By BEN JOHNSON
Northeastern State has made more trips to the infirmary than the end zone this year. And there's no sunshine at the end of the road quite yet.
The injuries continue to mount up for the RiverHawks, as they prepare to take on Emporia State on the road Saturday at 1 p.m.
Already without top-flight starts on both sides of the ball through the first three weeks of the season, NSU will add to that list as the No. 24 Hornets (3-0, 3-0 MIAA) await the RiverHawks' arrival in Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association play.
Quarterback Johnny Deaton (broken fibula), running back Joel Rockmore (partially torn anterior cruciate ligament) and linebacker Jack Gray (hand injury) will be joined on the NSU's injury list by:
- Defensive end (and emergency quarterback) Logan Andrews, who is now out for the season.
- Defensive end Cole Johnson, who is slated to have surgery next week on his foot and will be out for the year.
- Defensive tackle Faafetai Te'o, who had surgery on his hand and is out for the year.
- Right guard (after being moved from right tackle) Buck Spurger, who had season-ending surgery on his shoulder.
- Reserve fullback and special teams contributor Lane Dortch, who is out with an abdominal strain.
The RiverHawks will also have several players who could be game-time decisions at Welch Stadium in eastern Kansas. Wide receiver and backup quarterback Prince McJunkins and defensive tackle Kenley Choute are nursing ankle injuries. And strong safety Victor Johnson will attempt to play with a neck injury.
Mix in Ross Dvorak — who has been moved from center to right guard because of an arm injury that will preclude him from snapping the ball — as well. Hudson Baab will now take over at center for the RiverHawks.
The hits just won't stop for NSU.
"It's just crazy," NSU head coach Kenny Evans said. "There's a chance we could have some guys going both ways pretty soon."
Couple that with the fact that NSU has already stripped seven players of their redshirts, according to Evans.
The RiverHawks are certainly enduring a roster pinch. And it's reared its ugly head on offense.
NSU (0-3, 0-3) is dead last in the MIAA in scoring offense at 7.7 points per contest. The RiverHawks are also last in the league in trips into the red zone with five.
"We can't really change too much," said Evans, whose starting quarterback Thor Long is also not at 100 percent with a jammed thumb on his throwing hand.
"We can't change things scheme-wise, to be honest. We've had people open, and there have been some blocks to create holes. It's just a lot of inexperience out there."
Evans said a drastic maneuver would be to go to wishbone-style offense if the injuries continue to pile up.
"It's an option," Evans said.
Across the field from the RiverHawks on Saturday will be an Emporia State club that is third in the MIAA in scoring offense at 43.7 points per 60 minutes. The Hornets are led by former Ponca City standout Brent Wilson, who leads most of the statistical passing categories in the conference.
"Their quarterback is very accurate in the pocket," Evans said. "And he can run."
Wilson torched Central Oklahoma for 522 yards and seven touchdowns through the air — both league records — in a 54-38 victory. He has now accounted for 16 Hornet touchdowns this season — 13 more than NSU has scored as a team.
Right now, though, NSU is just looking to going one game without adding to an already lengthy injury list.
Northeastern State at Emporia State
When: Saturday at 1 p.m.
Where: Jones Field at Welch Stadium.
Radio: KTLQ, AM-1350 and live on goriverhawksgo.com.
Nicknames: Northeastern State RiverHawks; Emporia State Hornets.
Coaches: NSU - Kenny Evans (sixth season, 20-38); Emporia State - Garin Higgins (seventh season, 32-38).
Records: NSU 0-3 (0-3 MIAA); Emporia State 3-0 (3-0).
Rankings: NSU is not ranked in Division II football; Emporia State is No. 24 in this week's Division II coaches' poll.
Series record: NSU leads 7-2-1.
Last meeting: In 2012, Emporia State beat NSU 30-20.
Last week: Washburn 48, NSU 3; Emporia State 54, Central Oklahoma 38.
News to know: This will be first meeting between the two schools in Emporia, Kan., since 1990. ... Emporia State leads the MIAA in total offense, passing offense, first downs and time of possession. Hornet quarterback Brent Wilson is the MIAA leader in passing, total offense and touchdown passes. ... NSU is last in the league in scoring offense, averaging 7.7 points per game through three contests. ... NSU has not scored a touchdown in 105 minutes and 41 seconds of actual game time. The RiverHawks' last touchdown was a 4-yard run by Terrance Dixon in the first quarter against Missouri Southern on Sept. 14.
Players to watch
- NSU: Langston Jones (LB).
-- The RiverHawks' lone bright spot on defense through the first three weeks of the season has been Jones, a 6-foot, 205-pound outside linebacker. Jones leads the MIAA and the nation with 15.3 tackles per game. He had 13 against Washburn last week.
- Emporia State: Wilson (QB).
-- Wilson, a former Ponca City standout, been nearly flawless in three games for the Hornets. He has a current efficiency rating of 202.07, and he has completed 74.5 percent (82 of 110) of his passes this season. He followed up 301- and 297-yard passing performances in the first two weeks of the season with a record-smashing showing of 522 yards and seven touchdowns against Central Oklahoma last week. He has also yet to throw an interception.
Looking ahead: NSU returns home to host No. 3 Northwest Missouri State, while Emporia State will play at Lincoln.