JACK LEACH | Reporter
The Lindenwood football team began this season with a new turf field and special edition “Loyal2TheLou” helmets, but they also started off on the wrong foot with a 27-14 loss to Washburn on opening night.
“Offensively we just struggled,” head coach Jed Stugart said. “We’ve got to be patient. We only got two returning starters on this offense right now, and a bunch of guys who played in their first college football game.”
One of those new players was redshirt freshman quarterback Cade Brister, who earned his first career start.
Shortly after back-to-back punts by both teams to start the game, the Ichabods found the endzone to put themselves up 7-0 late in the first quarter. Next possession, Brister quickly took command of the Lions offense, rushing for 45 yards and scoring a touchdown to tie up the contest 7-7.
After another punt by Washburn in the second quarter, the Lions’ next possession presented two under-the-radar candidates that the Lions will be watching this season. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Payton Rose caught two passes for 45 yards including a team-long 31-yard reception; while junior running back, Nash Sutherlin, rushed hard for 24 yards on four carries, setting up an Erik Henneman touchdown grab in the corner of the endzone.
But Washburn, and a Blake Peterson-led offense, responded instantly by driving 65 yards downfield and carving up the Lions defense with completion after completion. A couple big receptions by the pair of sophomores, running back Curtis Whitten and wide receiver James Letcher Jr., set up the Ichabods with a Whitten rushing touchdown to tie the game at 14-a-piece.
After a brief drive for the Lions that concluded with another punt, Washburn received the ball with less than a minute remaining in the first half. Peterson turned to Letcher Jr. once again who broke off a run for 11 yards, and a reception shortly after, for 16 yards. The Ichabods managed to convert a field goal as time expired, to take a 17-14 lead going into halftime.
Letcher Jr., offensively, caused a lot of problems for the Lindenwood defense, but took over in the special teams’ game. Letcher Jr. piled up over 40 return yards at half, a number that more than tripled itself midway through the third quarter.
“We got to get our return game fixed,” Stugart said. “We put our defense in tough spots in field position, and that was a huge problem all night.”
Another three-and-out to begin the second half for LU resulted in another punt that left Washburn in the Lions’ red zone. Two plays later, a quarterback keeper for Peterson resulted in other touchdown to put the Ichabods up 24-14.
After back-and-forth scoreless possessions for both teams, a Washburn missed field goal and a Tyler Green interception gave the Lindenwood community some hope that a fourth quarter comeback was indeed possible.
However, LU fumbled on its first play of the fourth quarter, which gave Washburn a chance to burn a majority of the clock.
The Lions had one final chance to score late in the fourth quarter, but a Brister pass intended for sophomore wide receiver Jarrett Johnson was intercepted to end the game.
According to Stugart, the negatives outweighed the positives Thursday night, but there’s plenty of hope for this Lions squad moving forward.
“We’re just a young team,” he said. “Our future’s extremely bright, so there’s always some positives there.”
LU hits the road next week and travels to Joplin, as they take on the Lions of Missouri Southern State University next Saturday at 6 p.m.