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Emporia State sophomore Wil Amos (12) will get a near-homecoming on Saturday as the Hornets play at Missouri Southern. ESU and MSSU meet late in a season that the two teams have combined for just four wins.

The Emporia State football team is experiencing something it hasn’t in almost a decade — a lost season.

Sitting at 2-7 and coming off five consecutive losses, the Hornets are doing their best to remain cognizant, competitive and channeling toward a final victory or two.

The Hornets certainly had far higher expectations of themselves entering the season, but are faced with just their second losing season in the last eight years and potentially worst since 2009.

“I think that’s really the thing that’s kept us motivated is that ... we haven’t been down this road in a long time,” ESU Head Coach Garin Higgins said. “I think that in itself has jarred us enough to understand that regardless of what our record is, we’ve got to play better.”

ESU’s next task will be its final road game, playing an equally struggling Missouri Southern squad. Though the Lions lead the MIAA in passing yardage, MSSU has but two wins to its name.

That’s still a step forward after winning just one game between the previous two years combined.

Jeff Sims, in his first year at MSSU, brought in a plethora of new blood to the program, including senior quarterback Jacob Park, who had started at Iowa State in 2017 before taking a leave of absence from football.

Park is now pacing the MIAA with 355 yards per game with 21 touchdowns, but a conference-leading 21 interceptions as well.

“We’re excited for any matchup, any team throws at us,” said junior defensive back Kyle Rinck. “They have a pretty good quarterback (and) talented receivers, but we’re ready.”

ESU currently sits with the second-best passing defense in the league which will also provide a critical late-season test.

“They’ve got a lot of talent there (and have) virtually flipped that talent (level),” Higgins said. “Coach Sims has done a great job of getting (them) very, very competitive, getting the right type of talent to have an opportunity to win in the MIAA. Their quarterback ... there’s a reason he played in the Big 12. He’s really good, gets rid of the ball on time, there’s no wasted movement.

“This is a big game, even though (it’s between) two teams that have won two games, we’re coming off a bad loss and I’m really looking forward to our guys playing the right way.”

It will also be valuable for those looking forward to put their growth on display.

Sophomore Wil Amos has become one of the Hornets’ more dependable receiving threats this season and will get his first starting shot within 45 miles of home.

“A bunch of my high school friends and family and everybody’s going to be able to make it, so I’m excited for that,” he said. “We’ve got to put four quarters together, offensively, defensively and (on) special teams, we’ve all got to play together. Right now, we’re playing for our seniors. We want them to go out on a good note and so we’re trying to play these next two games and win for them.”

“We’ve been working hard all season. Our record hasn’t really shown it, but I think this week will be a good week for us.”

Kickoff from Hughes Stadium in Joplin is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday.

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