The regular season didn’t end the way the Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes thought it would.
Their 42-24 Kansas Conference loss to Southwestern last Saturday at Graves Family Sports Complex was the first of the year and cost them an outright Kansas Conference title.
As difficult as the setback was, though, it didn’t bring an end to the season. The No. 10-ranked Coyotes (10-1) landed an at-large berth in the NAIA Championship field Sunday night and play No. 5 Indiana Wesleyan in a first-round game at noon (central time) Saturday at Wildcat Football Stadium in Marion, Indiana.
Coach Myers Hendrickson is grateful and thankful the Coyotes’ season is still alive.
“We’ve got a second life,” he said earlier this week. “For a lot of people, if you have a setback late in the year you may not be able to overcome it but we actually have that opportunity to go play again. We’re in the final 16 and that’s something we are excited about.”
A series of uncharacteristic mistakes that included three lost fumbles and muffed kickoff return were the Coyotes’ undoing against Southwestern. But that was last weekend and the laser focus this week has been on an Indiana Wesleyan team that presents numerous challenges.
“We had to have that time to kind of reflect and get over that loss but it’s over with now and the players have had an excited week,” Hendrickson said. “We’re a new team, it’s a new season and we’re 0-0.”
Hendrickson said this isn’t uncharted waters for his team.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” he said. “We’re resilient, we’re battle tested, we’ve overcome adversity. We’ve trailed at halves in multiple games and found ways to win. We’ve had our backs against the wall before.”
Postseason opponents are rarely pushovers and IWU is certainly no exception. The program is in fourth year of existence and has grown up quickly.
The Wildcats are 9-1, shared the Mid-States Football Association Mideast League title with Concordia, Mich. with a 6-1 record, have won six in a row, are 5-0 at home, have a victory over a Division I team and have beaten two teams that were ranked in the top six when they played them.
IWU opened the season with a 28-10 conquest of Division I FCS Valparaiso and later defeated Olivet Nazarene 52-28 and Marian 41-7, who were each ranked sixth in the NAIA at that time. The Wildcats also handed Lawrence Tech its first loss a week after the Marian victory.
IWU’s loss was to Concordia 28-21 October 2 in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Concordia was ranked fifth at the time.
“Definitely doesn’t look like a program that’s been around for a short duration of time,” Hendrickson said. “They’re established and do things the right way.”
Hendrickson said there’s a lot to like about the Wildcats after watching them on video.
“One thing that sticks out is their size, they’ve done a good job recruiting and have incredible personnel,” he said. “They’re consistent, don’t make mistakes and are well coached. They’re an impressive group.”
IWU’s features a balanced offensive threat that’s led by junior quarterback Xander Stokes, who has completed 67.5 percent of his passes for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. His top targets are Braden Smith (44 catches, 677 yards, nine touchdowns) and Jacquez Carter (35-653, five touchdowns). Devodney Alford leads the ground game with 740 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.
The Wildcats’ offense averages 36 points and 380 total yards. They allow just 13 points and 281 yards (64 rushing) per game.
“They pride themselves on running the football out of a lot of different formations,” Hendrickson said. “We’re a pretty similar style of team as far as being balanced offensively and playing good defense.”
“You’ve got to be prepared for everything,” said linebacker DeVante Gabriel (JR/Spring, Texas), KWU’s leading tackler. “They’re pretty versatile with their offense as far as formations and what they run out of them. … I feel like personally the best thing they do is run the football.”
KWU counters with an offense that’s averaging 504.5 yards and nearly 45 points. Quarterback Isaiah Randalle (JR/Sacramento, Calif.), who was named the KCAC’s Player of the Year and Co-Offensive Player of the Year earlier this week, has thrown for 2,764 yards and 34 touchdowns while completing nearly 65 percent of his passes.
Drevon Macon (JR/Los Angeles, Calif.) has 55 receptions, Stevie Williams (SR/Los Angeles, Calif.) 54 and Eren Jenkins (FR/Chicago, Ill.) 48 – Williams scoring 15 touchdowns and Jenkins 10. Nick Allsman (SO/Belleville, Kan.) has 687 yards rushing and eight touchdowns and CJ Fluker (FR/Defiance, Ohio) 676 yards and five scores.
This is Wesleyan’s third playoff appearance in the last four years. The Coyotes defeated Baker before losing to Lindsey Wilson in their last appearance in 2019.
“It’s one thing to say it but having been here before and been in the situation before is everything and that’s where our program’s at,” Hendrickson said. “I feel great about the opportunity.”