It wasn’t the start the Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes envisioned in their final game before beginning a four-month, coronavirus virus-related hiatus.
Jaylin King’s interception of an Isaiah Randalle (JR/Sacramento, Calif.) pass and 55-yard return for a touchdown gave Ottawa a 17-7 lead with 33 seconds left in the first quarter Saturday afternoon at Graves Family Sports Complex. The odds of the Coyotes entering the winter break on a high note didn’t appear to be good.
So much for appearances.
Randalle rebounded with three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth, C.J. Fluker rushed for 161 yards and a score, Eren Jenkins (SR/Chicago, Ill.) and Stevie Williams (SR/Los Angeles, Calif.) combined for 11 receptions for 165 yards and three TDs, and the defense limited the Braves to six points the rest of the day as the Coyotes pulled away for a 34-23 Kansas Conference victory.
KWU improved to 5-2 overall record, 4-2 in the KCAC, by winning its second consecutive game. Ottawa fell to 4-2 and 3-2.
The Coyotes scored twice in the second quarter and led 20-17 at halftime. After Ottawa regained the lead, 23-20, early in the third quarter the Coyotes scored the final 14 points and the defense pitched a shutout the rest of the way.
“We just tried to keep a positive head through the storm, banded together as brothers and came together as a team,” said Jenkins, who had six catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns. “We had to let everybody know we’re down 10 points, but we’re not down a hundred points. We were just one play away from flipping the whole script and having that mentality allowed us to break through.”
Jenkins coach, Myers Hendrickson, agreed.
“The resolve and the ability to overcome adversity,” he said. “We talk about it’s not about what happens, it’s about how you respond to it. That was 110 percent on display today. We’re not a normal team. We have to do hard things to win and that showed today.”
Randalle, who was 19 of 26 for 266 yards, got KWU within 17-14 on an 8-yard run with 9:55 left in the half. After an Ottawa punt the Coyotes struck again on Fluker’s 9-yard touchdown run. The PAT kick failed, but they led 20-17 at the 6:03 mark.
Fluker carried the ball a whopping 38 times on the day.
KWU appeared on the verge of another score just before intermission, but Randalle and Jenkins couldn’t connect on a lateral and Ottawa recovered at the Braves’ 5-yard line with 42 seconds left.
After Ottawa scored with 12:43 left in the third quarter Randalle hit Williams for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 6:51 left in the period, making it 27-23. The Coyotes capped the scoring with Randalle’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Jenkins with 12:58 left in the game.
KWU finished with 489 total yards – 266 passing and 233 rushing.
“Real proud of how we spread the ball around today,” Hendrickson said. “Eren Jenkins had an incredible game, (tight end) Jake McClure (JR/Wichita, Kan.) had a great game (3 catches, 56 yards), C.J. Fluker had a great game. It all started up front, offensive line played really good football. I thought Isaiah handled himself really well, handled some adversity early in the game and bounced back and played a great football game.”
“We left the defense really scrambling, not knowing where the ball’s going to go each and every play,” Jenkins said.
The defense was superb after the first quarter. The Coyotes forced a punt, held on downs twice and Zyair Velazquez (SR/San Diego, Calif.) intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter alone.
The Braves finished with 362 total yards. They used three quarterbacks who were a combined 17 of 43 passing for 239 yards. Freshman running back Derrick Curtis, the KCAC’s leading rusher, had 97 yards.
Velazquez and fellow linebacker Lucas Rockford (SO/Springfield, Ill.) led the defensive effort, notching nine and seven tackles respectively. Rockford also had a sack and two tackles for loss.
“We kept believing,” Hendrickson said of the defense. “We had a good plan, players went out and executed it, played with super energy. We talked about being the more excited team to play today and that showed on the field.”
Jenkins was impressed with the defense’s effort as well.
“I’m extremely proud of the defense,” he said. “The defense could have folded and just said ‘hey, this game’s over.’ But the strength of them gave (the offense) a chance to get going and just get the Coyote show rolling.”
Jenkins said this KWU team isn’t like others as evidence by Saturday’s victory.
“It shows this team is built differently, it’s actually built on adversity,” he said. “We’re not a bunch of all-star guys who can just come in and blow every team out. We’ve got to work hard and fight for ours. This team is built with some character.”
KWU is idle until March 6, 2021 when Sterling comes to GFSC for a 1 p.m. game. The Coyotes then play road games at Bethel, Tabor and Saint Mary on consecutive weekends to close out the regular season.
Jenkins plans to use the time off to recuperate and rejuvenate.
“Our bodies are worn down so this hiatus gives us a chance to get some energy back in us, get up on our weights and hopefully come back bigger, stronger, faster,” he said.