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Lincoln battles injuries leading into matchup vs. Washburn

by Trevor Hahn | September 16, 2023 at 1:32 a.m.
Lincoln defenders Wes Hollie (right) and Bryant Coley team up on a touchdown-saving tackle in last Saturday’s game against Missouri Western at Dwight T. Reed Stadium. (Ken Barnes/News Tribune)

The cards continue to stack against the Lincoln Blue Tigers.

Injuries are starting to pile up for the Blue Tigers, and they are preparing for today’s 6 p.m. matchup against the Washburn Ichabods at Dwight T. Reed Stadium without three key offensive starters. A number of other players are also battling through ailments.

It’s the next-man-up mentality for Lincoln as it heads into tonight’s matchup.

“Each week is a new opportunity,” Lincoln coach Jermaine Gales said. “Right now for those that are injured, it’s an opportunity for the next man to step up and contribute to the football team. Nothing more, nothing less. These guys have to put their belts on, buckle their laces and let’s go.”

The Blue Tigers (0-2) are expected to be without two starting wide receivers, Nathan Valencia and Winston Ausmer, and starting left tackle Xavier Stewart.

Aderias Ealy, Damon Bell and Israel Tate are expected to take a majority of the snaps at wideout, while Tyler Geide is sliding over from tight end to handle duties at left tackle in the absence of Stewart.

But on the other side, Washburn (0-2) is dealing with a shoulder injury to its starting quarterback Kellen Simonic, who is expected to miss tonight’s game after sustaining the injury during last week’s 30-23 loss to Missouri Southern.

The Ichabods are expected to start true freshman quarterback Sam Van Dyne (6-foot-3, 210 pounds). Van Dyne entered to start the second half last week and ended 9-for-17 passing for 61 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.

But the Blue Tigers know they still face a tall task tonight, despite facing an inexperienced signal-caller.

“I do believe they are more than capable of running the ball as well as throwing the ball with the young freshman,” Gales said. “It’s just going to be about how they execute, what their timing looks like. I think they are more than capable of putting on a good product, and we are going to have our hands full when they get off the bus.”

Helping out Van Dyne for Washburn will be a rushing attack that ran the ball 44 times a week ago, led by senior Taylon Peters (5-10, 200) with 27 rushes for 123 yards.

Lincoln knows it will have to defend the run first and be ready for play-action shots down the field.

“We are going to try to defend the run first,” Gales said. “Then we are going to make sure we are in position to defend play-action passes and deep shots.”

Catching the eyes of the Blue Tigers in the Ichabods’ wide receiver room is freshman D.J. Bell (5-11, 175), who leads the team with 13 receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown.

“They have a really exciting freshman over there in their own right,” Gales said. “It’s going to be a situation where if we know where he is at, we are going to be in pretty good shape.”

Lincoln’s offense may look a little different this week after quarterback Xzavier Vaughn suffered an ankle injury during the first quarter of last week’s 68-14 loss to Emporia State.

Vaughn is expected to play tonight, but the Blue Tigers are going to make sure he stays protected from any further injury.

“It doesn’t change on how the offense flows, it changes the thought process on what you want to do with the young man,” Gales said. “We just have to pull out a different talent, so to speak, because he is a quarterback. He can stand back there and throw the ball, but we have to protect him. If we can’t protect and he can’t move, we are going to have to make a decision.”

The injuries at wide receiver are not a concern for Lincoln as it trusts its experienced wideouts alongside the younger players who have been waiting for this opportunity.

“With the wide receiver corps, it’s not really a huge issue,” Gales said. “We are going to be fine at the wide receiver spot because we are talented. We’ve got guys to come off the bench and some young exciting guys that are very capable of doing what we need to do.”

The Blue Tigers will go up against a Washburn defense that has allowed an average of 32 points per contest.

The Ichabods are a unified defensive group that has impressed Gales on film.

“We are prepared for a relentless effort,” Gales said. “Washburn is known for flying around on defense. The thing that you see from them on film, it’s not just one or two guys that jump off that are the guys you have to know where they are, it’s all 11 of them. It’s like synchronized swimming, those guys are really good at what they do.”

Washburn has been led in tackles through two games by junior defensive end Patrick Altenor (6-2, 240) and sophomore defensive back Braylon Alexander (5-11, 160) with 13 tackles each, while sophomore defensive end Phoenix Smith (6-3, 210) has been disruptive with two sacks and two tackles for loss.

Notes: Tonight will mark the first time in program history Lincoln has hosted consecutive night games. … The Ichabods and the Blue Tigers have met nine times in their all-time series, with Washburn winning every matchup. The two sides first played in 1989.

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