Missouri Southern head coach Daryl Daye described Northeastern State’s home venue as dangerous locale. Not in the violent or personal safety sense, but in that “you had better be on your game or you’ll lose” sense.
Heading into a Week 3 clash with No. 22 Washburn, Northeastern State is hoping to draw some good vibes from Gable Field with what likely feels like every player hobbling around at the current moment.
“(Missouri Southern’s coach) said he was entering a snake pit,” NSU head coach Kenny Evans said, “but we’ve been the ones who have been snake bit.”
Hard to argue with Evans there.
When the RiverHawks and Ichabods kick off their Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association contest at 6 p.m. on Saturday, NSU will be without its season-opening starters at quarterback, running back, right tackle, defensive tackle, defensive end and middle linebacker.
Johnny Deaton, NSU’s senior quarterback, suffered a fractured fibula in the RiverHawks’ season-opening loss at Pittsburg State, and middle linebacker Jack Gray suffered a hand injury in the week leading up to the game against the Gorillas.
Following the Week 1 loss, NSU moved Kenny Garrett from defensive tackle to right tackle on offense.
Now, the RiverHawks have to discover a course of action without standout tailback Joel Rockmore. The 5-foot-9 junior from Fort Worth, Texas, found out he had a slight tear in his anterior cruciate ligament following his 145-yard performance against Missouri Southern last weekend.
The hits just keep on coming for NSU.
“There’s nothing you can do,” said Evans, whose team is 0-2. “It’s just the next man up.”
Adding insult to the rash of injuries, the RiverHawks could be without the services of defensive tackle Kenley Choute and defensive end Cole Johnson against Washburn. Johnson left in the first quarter of the Missouri Southern game with a lower leg injury and will be out against the Ichabods. Choute is doubtful but will likely be a game-time decision, Evans said.
Manning the quarterback spot for NSU for the second week in a row will be Thor Long, who was 8 of 17 for 111 yards against the Lions in his first-ever start.
With Rockmore out, Long will turn to Terrance Dixon to energize the running game.
“We went two games without (Rockmore) last year, and Terrance did a great job last year,” Evans said of Dixon, who ran for 240 yards on 56 carries in four starts in 2012. Dixon finished the year with 354 yards and five touchdowns on 75 rushes, while Rockmore eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark.
Also logging carries alongside Dixon will be Steven Hopper, Ashdon Perry and Dylan Yazel.
As for NSU’s opponent this week, Evans is quite aware of Washburn’s 2-0 mark and that the Ichabods lead the MIAA in scoring offense.
“They definitely haven’t played the first two games that we’ve played,” Evans said of Washburn, who torched Nebraska Kearney (58-13) and Fort Hays State (54-17) in the first two weeks of the season.
“They have talent, but they have basically the same team we played down to the wire last year.”
Washburn knocked off NSU 24-20 in 2012, despite Rockmore rushing for 176 yards. In that game, Washburn quarterback Mitch Buhler was 16 of 32 for 169 yards, one touchdowns and one interception.
So far this year, Buhler is third in the league in passing efficiency with a 187.8 rating. He has completed 62.5 percent (35 for 56) of his passes for 545 yards and eight touchdowns.
Evans, though, is still only worried about his squad.
“If we can play the way we’re capable of,” he said, “it doesn’t matter who we’ve lost (to injuries).”