STERLING – It took Kansas Wesleyan exactly three plays to service notice the 2019 Kansas Conference football championship was not leaving Salina.
Johnny Feauto’s 71-yard touchdown pass to Johnny Carmack 53 seconds into the game launched the No. 3-ranked Coyotes and they never looked back on their way to a decisive 38-13 victory over No. 23 Sterling on Saturday afternoon at Smisor Stadium.
The victory clinched the second consecutive KCAC title for Wesleyan, which improved to 10-0 overall and 9-0 in conference play. The Coyotes conclude the regular season next Saturday with a 1 p.m. game against Bethel on Senior Day at Graves Family Sports Complex.
KWU won last year’s title under Coach Matt Drinkall and did it again Saturday under new head coach Myers Hendrickson, who was doused with water along with several assistant coaches by jubilant Coyote players as the game ended.
Feauto, the NAIA’s total offense and passing leader, found Carmack all alone on the left side on a third down-and-6 play. Carmack caught the pass and continued on unhurried and uncontested into the end zone with 14:07 left in the quarter.
“Johnny knew they were going to switch off (coverage of him) and got past both (defenders),” Feauto said. “He made a great read on that and I was able to find him. Right after that we were like ‘all right, we’re settled in, we’re going to go get this.’”
“It was huge,” Hendrickson said of the quick touchdown. “We were in a third down right away and got a man-to-man look and Johnny Carmack came open on it. It was a great read by Johnny Feauto. It was a great start to the game.”
Feauto was just getting started. He finished the game 15 of 28 passing for 267 yards, three touchdowns and ran 5 yards for a fourth TD.
KWU went up 14-0 on its next possession, driving 46 yards on 11 plays and scoring on Prewitt’s 1-yard run with 5:02 left in the opening quarter.
The lead grew to 24-0 early in the second quarter as Feauto threw 12-yard touchdown pass superback Roy Sanders and Jose Herrera’s 30-yard field goal. Both scores came after interceptions by Scott Helsper and Charles Barnes III.
After Sterling scored to make it 24-7 with 5:06 left in the half, the Coyotes responded on Feauto’s touchdown run with 1:54 remaining. It capped a 65-yard, nine-play drive and gave KWU a 31-7 halftime lead.
Wesleyan’s lone second-half touchdown came with 16 seconds left in the third quarter on Feauto’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Trent Poe-Evans on fourth-and-goal, giving the Coyotes a nearly insurmountable 38-7 advantage entering the final quarter.
Prewitt, who finished with 142 yards on 33 carries, found more room to run the second half, the result of KWU’s big offensive line taking control of the line of scrimmage. He had 93 yards on 17 carries the final 30 minutes.
“We started wearing them down,” Prewitt said. “Coach said we were going to keep pounding the rock and trusted me to do it. The O-line was really good, we’re big up front and we knew we were going to wear them down and handle them at the end of the game.”
Sterling focused its defense on stopping wide receiver Stevie Williams but Richard McCauley and Prewitt made the Warriors pay. McCauley caught seven passes for 122 yards while Williams had two catches for 14 yards but more importantly kept Twon Collymore, Sterling’s best defensive back, occupied most of the game.
“That’s what we do, we’re just a versatile wide receiver group and everybody can play,” McCauley said. “They were a good defense and we knew it would be a game. We just had to take care of what we have to take care of. It’s what I say every week, it’s not about them, it’s just about us executing.”
“Richard McCauley was incredible the whole day,” Hendrickson said. “His seven catches were huge. They were third downs and critical situations over the middle on some dig routes. Also had him blocking their best defensive back throughout the course of the game and he did a great job with that, too.”
KWU finished with 427 total yards – 267 passing and 160 rushing. Sterling (7-2 overall and KCAC) had 239 total yards but only 55 rushing.
The Warriors played without starting quarterback Cedrick Phillips and running back Ce’von Mitchell-Ford, who were out with injuries. Phillips suffered a torn rotator cuff while making a tackle after throwing an interception against Southwestern a week earlier.
His backup Eric Butler, who earned All-KCAC Honorable Mention honors as Sterling’s quarterback last season, moved over from wide receiver and was 18 of 35 for 239 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He was sacked five times, four by Shaq Bradford, who has 17.5 on the year.
“It didn’t make any difference,” Bradford said of the quarterback change. “Whoever has the ball that’s who we’re going to try to tackle. We see ball, we get ball.”
“Butler is very talented, he’s very good,” Hendrickson said. “He throws it very well and I thought for us to be able to get to the passer and get those sacks was huge.”
Hendrickson, who served as an assistant under Drinkall during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, was thrilled to win the conference championship in his first season.
“I’m just proud of everyone associated with Coyote football,” he said. “Our players most importantly, our assistant coaches, our mangers … everybody associated with Coyote football had a huge piece of this. It truly is a great day for Kansas Wesleyan.”
“It feels awesome,” said Feauto, who led the Coyotes to last year’s KCAC title, a berth in the NAIA semifinals and 13-1 record. “I came to Kansas Wesleyan for a reason and that was to not lose a lot of games, and that’s exactly what’s happened.”
Bethel (8-2 overall, 7-2 KCAC) trounced Saint Mary 48-3 Saturday and has won four in a row. The game is huge for KWU in terms of seeding for the NAIA playoffs – a loss could result in a first-round road game.
“We’re in the playoffs but now we want to make sure we secure that seed that we want and do what we can to get a home game,” Hendrickson said.
“We’ve got bigger and better goals we have to focus on,” McCauley said.