WINFIELD, Kan. – The Southwestern College football team came excruciatingly close to earning what would likely have been considered a statement win Saturday evening. The Moundbuilders fell to the Coyotes of Kansas Wesleyan University, 34-29, inside Richard L. Jantz Stadium.
Just one week after earning Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week recognition, junior quarterback Christian Gordon completed 17 of his 37 pass attempts for 208 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 28 yards on nine carries.
Senior Silas Jefferson led the Southwestern (1-4, 1-2 KCAC) ground game with 17 carries for 131 yards, while freshman Keyshawn Wyatt was limited to 45 yards on 13 carries. Wyatt also caught three passes for 35 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Junior Carvontez Gates was the leading receiver in the contest, and secured five receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown.
Senior kicker Mario Esparza had another strong outing. The El Paso, Texas, native converted all three of his field goal attempts, including a 31-yard kick early in the game. Esparza also averaged 44 yards per punt, and 58.6 yards per kick-off with three touchbacks.
As a team, the Moundbuilders ran 80 plays for 439 yards of total offense. Southwestern threw for 208 yards, while the Moundbuilder backs accounted for 231 yards on 43 carries. Despite the loss, Southwestern out-gained Kansas Wesleyan (3-2, 2-1 KCAC), 439-432. The Moundbuilders converted 8-of-18 third down attempts, and were 4-for-5 inside the red zone.
Southwestern made the first move in the contest. After receiving the opening kick-off, the Moundbuilders put together an eight-play, 75 yard drive highlighted by a five-yard touchdown pass from Gordon to Wyatt. Gordon then found Ka'Darius McQueen in the end zone for a two-point conversion that gave Southwesten an early 8-0 lead with 11:29 still to play in the opening quarter.
Kansas Wesleyan answered four minutes later. After taking advantage of a short punt, the Coyotes used six plays to move the ball 29 yards, including a three-yard touchdown run that cut the Southwestern lead to 8-7 at the 7:34 mark. The Coyotes struck again late in the quarter with a 13-yard touchdown pass, and took a 14-8 lead into the second quarter.
Esparza drilled the first of his three field goals less than three minutes into the second quarter. A 31-yard strike cut the KWU lead to 14-11 with 12:19 remaining until halftime. Five minutes later, Gordon connected with Wyatt from 30 yards out to give Southwestern a 17-14 lead with 7:10 remaining until halftime, but KWU responded and did so quickly. A quick five-play, 56 yard drive resulted in six more points for the Coyotes, and gave the gray-clad guests a 20-17 advantage with 5:53 to play in the half. Esparza tied the game at 20-20 with a 29-yard field goal at the 2:45 mark, but KWU had the final say in the opening half. The Coyotes closed the half with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a five-yard touchdown run with 0:18 remaining on the clock. The scoring drive gave KWU a 27-20 lead at the halftime break.
After stopping the Coyotes on their opening drive of the second half, Southwestern looked to Esparza yet again, this time to convert a 27 yard field goal that pulled the Moundbuilders to within four, 27-23, at the 10:34 mark of the third quarter. KWU answered with a quick five-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a 23-yard touchdown pass that gave the 'Yotes a 34-23 lead with 9:03 to play in the third period. Southwestern returned the favor with a 10-play, 74-yard scoring drive. Gordon connected with Gates, who made a diving catch in the end zone. The two-point try failed, but Southwestern had cut the lead to 34-29, where it remained through the end of the third quarter.
Neither team was able to do anything in the fourth quarter, but Southwestern made one last run at the Coyotes. After forcing KWU to punt with 5:07 remaining, the Moundbuilders marched the ball down the field. With less than 90 seconds remaining, Southwestern found itself with a first-and-goal situation from KWU's nine-yard line. Pass attempts on first and second downs fell incomplete. Gordon appeared to have found Donny Ebanks in the end zone on third down, but Ebanks was hit hard and the pass fell to the turf, and placed the outcome of the game on the shoulders of a fourth-and-goal situation from the nine yard line. Ebanks took off on a fade route to the far corner of the end zone. Gordon sent the ball his way, and Ebanks got his fingers on the ball, but the play was broken up and Ebanks was pushed out of the end zone. KWU then ran out the clock, and escaped Jantz Stadium with a 34-29 win.
Saturday's loss drops Southwestern to 1-4 on the season, and 1-2 in KCAC play. The Moundbuilders will return to action Saturday, making the short trip to Wichita for a rivalry match-up with the Falcons of Friends University. Kick-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Adair Austin Stadium.