Football drops season opener to conference newcomer Evangel 17-7

NIXA, Mo. – Turnovers and missed opportunities were more than the No. 20 Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes could overcome in their season opener.

Evangel’s defense recovered four KWU fumbles and stopped the Coyotes on downs twice in the red zone in a 17-7 Kansas Conference victory Saturday night.

It was the Coyotes’ first season opening loss since 2017 and was the Valor’s first victory as a member of the KCAC after spending the past 37 years in the Heart of America Conference.

Playing with several new starters after the departure of 35 seniors from last year’s team Wesleyan’s offense struggled to find a rhythm. The Coyotes finished with 148 total yards on 57 plays, an average of 2.6 yards per play.

The loss negated a gritty effort by the defense which forced five Evangel turnovers, three interceptions and two fumbles. The Valor compiled 399 total yards on 92 plays but managed just three points in the second half.

Nick Allsman accounted for KWU’s points on a five-yard touchdown run with 4:49 left in the opening quarter. It capped a quick four-play, 31-yard drive that came after the first of two interceptions by nose tackle Muhamad Abusharkh.

KWU drove deep into Evangel territory on its next possession but Richard Lara’s pass on fourth down fell incomplete at the Evangel 20 yard line.

The Coyotes reached the red zone again on their first possession of the half but stalled at the 14 after three consecutive incompletions.

Evangel scored both of its touchdowns in the second quarter, the first on RJ Wakely’s seven-yard pass to Dillon Hester and the second on a three-yard toss to Hester.

Trent Graves replaced Lara at quarterback late in the second quarter and played the rest of the game. Lara was 6 of 15 passing for 65 yards while was Graves 4 of 9 for 29 yards.

Tyler Boston led the KWU offense with 35 yards rushing on 10 carries and had two receptions for 24 yards. Allsman had a team-best 31 yards receiving on three catches.

Shaylan Lewis spearheaded the defensive effort with 14 tackles while Ricco Moore had 11, Nate Hays 10 and Luke Armstrong and Jordan Dupre nine apiece.

Abusharkh’s second interception came late in the second quarter after the Valor reached the KWU 35-yard line. Ricardo Garcia grabbed the third interception early in the fourth quarter. Ricco Moore recovered a fumble in the first quarter and Quatama Massaquoi scooped up fumble in the second quarter.

Hester, an NAIA All-America wide receiver in 2022, finished with 12 receptions for 111 yards while running back Sammy Robinson had 153 yards rushing on 31 carries. Wakley was 26 of 40 for 153 yards but had four turnovers – the three interceptions and a fumble.

The Coyotes play archrival Bethany in their home opener at 7 p.m. next Saturday on Gene Bissell Field at JRI Hospitality Stadium at the Graves Family Sports Complex. The Swedes lost to Avila 46-23 in their opener Saturday night in Lindsborg.