As the sun slowly set late Saturday afternoon, it sent long, dark shadows over an empty and silent Cessna Stadium … and across the Wichita State University football program.
The Shockers have known plenty of hard times in recent decades. The two met again Saturday as WSU blew a 35-3 halftime lead and, in the process, a game it had won, dropping a 36-35 decision to Morehead State University.
It seemed impossible that WSU could lose this game. But in Shocker football, it’s never-say-win until the final gun sounds.
Morehead State’s Adrian Breen threw two touchdown passes in the final 1:54 and then ran for the winning two-point conversion himself with 27 seconds to play.
“I’ve been coaching for 30 years and I have never, ever, ever lost a ball game like this, “ said WSU coach Ron Chismar, whose team fell to 1-2. “… It’s a disgrace.”
One team’s disgrace, though, is another team’s triumph.
“This is the biggest win in the history of Morehead State football,” said MSU coach Bill Baldridge, whose Eagles are 3-0, their best start since 1964. It was the first victory for Morehead State, a Division I-AA, over a Division I-A program.
“Coach got up on a table at halftime and said ‘You’re being intimidated,’ “ Breen said. “He said ‘they’re a Division I-A program but you’re better than they are.’ ”
Certainly more hungry. Morehead State shut out WSU in the second half and scored on five of its eight possessions, including two touchdown drives into a stiff, swirling wind in the final quarter. The Eagles also recovered a perfectly executed onside kick to set up the winning drive.
“We came out (in the second half) and we just didn’t want it,” said WSU cornerback Sjohn Jackson. “We blew it.”
In ways almost too numerous to mention. If WSU executes one big play in the second half, it wins the game. The Shockers couldn’t do it.
Instead, WSU made things easier for Morehead State, turning the ball over twice on offense, missing a field goal and contributing a pocketful of crucial penalties on defense.
“We never, ever, put them down when we could have put them down,” Chismar said. “We made mistake after mistake.”
The most crucial came after Breen’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Steve Collins cut WSU’s lead to 35-34 with 27 seconds to play. Morehead State elected to go for the tie, but Charlie Stepp’s kick was wide.
WSU, though, was offsides on the play, and Morehead State got another chance. This time the Eagles went for the win.
“We told coach we had worked too hard for a tie,” said Breen, who finished with 303 yards passing and three touchdowns. “We wanted the win.”
While Breen was outstanding, the WSU defense chipped in. The Shockers had two pass interference penalties in the second half that kept alive Morehead State scoring drives.
The second came against Chris Badciong on Morehead State’s winning drive. Instead of having fourth-and-10 at the WSU 37, the penalty gave Morehead State first-and-10 at the WSU 21. Three plays later, the Eagles scored.
“We try to play press coverage, and the kids don’t get turned around soon enough to get the ball and run into the receivers,” said Chismar, whose team moved the ball to the Morehead State 36 on its final series before time ran out. “… You have to get yourself into position to deflect the ball, and we’re not doing it.”
WSU’s performance in the second half was even more disappointing considering how well the Shockers played in the first half.
The Shocker defense made several big plays in the opening half. To wit:
• WSU stopped Morehead State on fourth-and-inches at the WSU 4 after a Brian McDonald fumble on the opening series.
• Safety Badciong returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown.
• Jackson intercepted Breen in the end zone to end another Morehead State threat.
Valasco Smith, meanwhile, piled up 147 yards in the first half for WSU, including scoring runs of 47 and 39 yards. McDonald, too, had a big first half, throwing scoring passes to Broc Fewin and Stan Wahlmeier to give WSU a 35-3 lead.
“We can play football,” Chismar said. “We showed we can play football in the first half. We just can’t put people away.”
It didn’t help WSU that Smith, who finished with 191 yards, carried only six times in the second half before leaving the game with a sprained ankle. Still, the Shockers had enough weapons to score. They just couldn’t do it.
“We came out on the first series of the second half and moved the ball before we fumbled, “ Wahlmeier said. “We came back to the sideline and said, ‘OK, we’ll get them next time.’ Next time never did come.”