Only one other time in the last decade has the Emporia State football team stared at the final date on its regular season schedule already knowing its season had no chance to extend beyond.
So that in itself has put a damper on things.
You wouldn’t know it by watching the Hornets last week as they snapped a five game skid at Missouri Southern.
That simply leaves the season finale, a home meeting with Central Oklahoma on Saturday afternoon, left to process.
“I hope we get a win, that’s the main thing,” ESU Head Coach Garin Higgins said. “The year hasn’t (gone) the way we wanted it to, of course. I can’t say enough about this group of 17 seniors, just the way they come to work every day, just the way they’ve upheld our culture. I think it’s been ... an enjoyment. It’s not fun losing — I’ve been doing this long enough to have been part of a bad season (when) it’s not enjoyable to go to practice — but (with) this group, it’s not that way. That’s why, hopefully, everybody comes together Saturday ... and we come out with a W.”
ESU picked up a 29-6 win over Missouri Southern last week, bringing closure to a five-game losing streak.
The Bronchos know that feeling rather well, but will enter Welch Stadium riding a three-game winning streak after suffering a four-game skid of their own.
But win or lose, ESU will finish in the bottom third of the MIAA standings for the first time since Higgins was in his first few seasons at ESU.
“We’re all disappointed that we are where we’re at right now and want it to be better,” Higgins said.
The best ESU can do, however, is win one more time against a Bronchos’ squad that has spent much of the season being in the middle of the pack, statistically.
They, too, have a little of incentive to work with as the Hornets defeated UCO at Wantland Stadium on the Bronchos’ senior day last year.
“I know they’ll have this game circled on their calendar,” Higgins said. “We went down there and beat them on their senior day last year and I’m sure they’d like nothing better than to come up and beat us. It’s going to be a big challenge. They’ve played four different quarterbacks, that could be a little bit of an issue as far as wondering who’s going to be the starter.”
In the meantime, ESU will focus more on following up its strong offensive performance at MSSU. The Hornets’ continued to struggle near the end zone, but moved the ball effectively most of the game.
“Offensively, we moved the ball as good as we’ve moved it any other game,” Higgins said. “We just weren’t efficient (in regards to scoring).”
ESU’s 17-man senior class will also be recognized prior to the opening kickoff. It will be a flurry of emotion for a group that mostly has taken part in the NCAA Playoffs twice in their career.
“We just want to finish the right way,” senior defensive lineman Tre’Vaun Ammons said. “We’ve had some downs this season. It’s not what we’re used to, but we just want to go out there and finish on a good note.
“It’s going to take all four quarters. If you look back at our losses, we didn’t play (well) all four quarters. We never played the whole game. That’s going to be the key to this victory ... giving it all we’ve got.”
If there were any doubters that ESU had any fight left in its season after somewhat lethargic efforts at Missouri Western and against Washburn, last week’s victory sparked the lineup back to life.
“It was a bigtime thing,” senior offensive lineman Austin Unterreiner said. “That five-game skid hurt. It’s hard to come back and get motivated and keep going through the season. Going out there, we played really well. We had a lot of fun out there. That’s the best part about this group, we have a bunch of fun together. Doing that again was good.
We’ve just got to stay together. You’ve got to have fun with it. If you make (winning and losing) to be too much of a thing, then you’re going to lose interest and you’re going to lose guys. We’ve just to keep that morale up the whole time.”
Kickoff from Jones Field at Welch Stadium is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday.