By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
TOPEKA - Sophomore quarterback Anthony Vespo set a single-game Missouri Western record with 443 passing yards.
He threw for four touchdowns on 31-of-43 passing, and the Griffons racked up 579 yards of offense, but Washburn scored 20 unanswered points in the second half and racked up over 500 yards themselves to beat Missouri Western 47-41 at Yager Stadium Saturday.
Missouri Western was hindered by 10 penalties for 85 yards - seven of those penalties were called on special teams plays. The Griffons also averaged just 16 yards on six kickoff returns.
Washburn also moved the ball at will, scoring touchdowns on seven out of nine possessions and averaging over nine yards per play.
"Very disappointed," Missouri Western coach Matt Williamson said on defense and special teams. "Special teams was a disaster. And defensively, we couldn't stop them. They scored at will. I've never seen anything like it since I've been here. I know those players are upset. I'm upset. Just a bad performance all around."
Offensively, the Griffons (2-2) scored touchdowns on six of their first seven possessions, and were overall clicking on offense through the first two-and-a-half quarters.
Washburn scored on its opening drive to go up 7-0, but the Griffons punched right back on their first possession when Vespo found freshman tight end Tycen Gray for a seven-yard touchdown to knot the game at 7-7 with 7:34 left in the first quarter.
Gray finished the game with a career-high six catches for 61 yards and his first career collegiate score.
After the Ichabods scored again late in the first to go up 14-7, the Griffons went back to work and Vespo found sophomore receiver Cooper Burton on a wide-open 37-yard strike to again knot the game at 14 with 12:51 left until halftime.
After forcing the first Washburn punt of the day on the following drive, Missouri Western got the ball back and moved the ball down the field on a methodical 16-play, 70-yard drive which ended with a one-yard touchdown run from freshman Shen Butler-Lawson, Jr.
After a drive that lasted nearly seven minutes, the Griffons led 20-14 with 4:54 to go in the second quarter.
"I think our offense took a huge, huge step," Williamson said. "They played phenomenally. One of the best offensive games I've seen since I've been here. Anthony (Vespo) stepped up and made some great throws. We had some great receiving."
Washburn answered back in just six plays, and scored with just 2:11 left until halftime. Both teams had one more possession inside the final two minutes, but did nothing with it and the score was tied 20-20 at the break. Each team missed a point-after in the first half.
The Griffons got the ball to start the second half, and took advantage. On a first down play, Burton flipped the ball to Burton on a flea flicker. A former all-district quarterback at Benton, Burton fired a 36-yard pass down the sideline to a wide open Hezekiah Trotter, who took it in for a touchdown, giving the Griffons a 27-20 lead with 12:51 left in the third.
Burton finished with three all-purpose touchdowns and 96 all-purpose yards. He ended up with four catches for 60 yards and two receiving scores.
Trotter had five catches for a career-high 122 yards and the touchdown.
After fielding a short kickoff, Washburn tied the game back up in just two plays when quarterback Mitch Schurig fired a pass 44 yards into the end zone, where it was caught in tight coverage by Peter Afful to tie the game at 27.
Schurig was 24-of-30 for 388 yards and five touchdowns.
Missouri Western, again, returned the favor, marching 89 yards on just seven plays. Burton caught his second touchdown pass of the day - a six-yard grab in the back of the end zone - to put the Griffons ahead 34-27 with still 9:10 left in the third quarter.
It was the last time Missouri Western would take the lead.
Washburn continued its offensive conquest, going 71 yards on eight plays. The Ichabods had a 4th-and-1 at the Griffons' 13, but Zach Willis converted and bounced off tacklers for a 13-yard touchdown run to yet again tie the game - this time at 34.
After just a nine-yard kick return by Trey Vaval, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Missouri Western was pinned inside its own 10, and Jack Rasmussen had to punt it away inside of his own end zone.
Starting at the Griffons' 33, Washburn went right back to the air and found the end zone on a 33-yard pass to Jace Williams. The Ichabods led 41-34 entering the fourth.
"That team came out and freaking whipped our defense's ass," Williamson said, after Washburn piled up 532 yards of offense. "They did. It's honest and it's the truth and we're going to have to get it fixed."
Washburn's Marquise Manning picked off Vespo on a deep pass intended for Traveon James with 23 seconds left in the third quarter. The Ichabods eventually turned that into points, scoring on a five-yard touchdown run from Will Evans to go up 47-34 with 11:26 remaining.
Missouri Western put together a long drive after that, getting all the way down to the Washburn 12. However, Vespo threw a pass that was intercepted in the end zone, giving Washburn the ball back up 13 with 6:22 to play.
The Griffon defense got a stop, and again, Vespo and the offense strung together a long drive that ended with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Traveon James, pulling Missouri Western to within 47-41 with just over a minute left.
James had a stellar day, catching 11 passes for 188 yards - both career-highs.
Cody Watson had a decent onside kick attempt, getting a late bounce on the ball, but the kick went out-of-bounds. Washburn punted the ball back to MWSU with just three seconds left. Pinned at their own 10, the Griffons didn't have enough time left to get down the field and score.
Overall, an outstanding day by the Griffon offense, but just not enough from defense or special teams, says Williamson.
"I told our kids in the locker room that you definitely have to win two out of the three phases, and we only won one today," he said. "That's why we got a loss."
Missouri Western comes back home Saturday to face No. 2 Northwest Missouri State (3-0), who shut out Central Oklahoma 38-0 in Maryville on Saturday.
Kickoff in that game is set for 6 p.m. The game will be carried live on the Griffon Sports Network (680 AM, 95.3 FM) with coverage starting at 5 p.m.
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.