The Lincoln Blue Tigers saw their strength of schedule improve tremendously when they returned to the MIAA for the 2019 football season. One half into their season opener, they were feeling pretty good.
Lincoln and Washburn were tied at 21 at halftime, but the Ichabods pulled away in the second half for a 49-27 victory. After last fall's game was canceled due to COVID-19, the two teams are set to open the 2021 season tonight at Dwight T. Reed Stadium.
Kickoff is at 6 p.m.
Washburn is playing its first football game since Nov. 16, 2019, while Lincoln was able to play two non-conference games this past spring. However, the Ichabods did play in a controlled scrimmage in the spring at Colorado School of Mines.
"It's really no different than any other season, where you come in and there's a whole lot of uncertainty," Lincoln coach Malik Hoskins said of scouting tonight's opponent. "The only thing we can go on is the film from 2019.
"They have the same coaching staff, so we expect for their schemes to be the same. They're returning a lot of starters."
Washburn brings back seven starters on offense and eight on defense.
Senior quarterback Mitch Schurig was an all-MIAA honorable mention pick in 2019 after passing for 2,319 yards and 21 touchdowns.
"He can spin it, and he's got some guys he can throw it to," Hoskins said.
Schurig will have back his top target, wide receiver James Letcher Jr., who had 64 catches for 824 yards and seven touchdowns two years ago. Hoskins also noted senior Jace Williams (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) will be a tough matchup.
"It's going to be a challenge for us," Hoskins said. "They're big on the outside."
Running backs Taylor Peters and Zach Willis combined for 1,117 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns in 2019.
"They want to run the football," Hoskins said. "They're big and physical."
In 2019, Washburn averaged 39.5 points per game and allowed an average of 32.5, finishing the season with a three-game winning streak and a 6-5 record.
Junior linebacker Grant Bruner and senior safeties KJ Turner and Marquise Manning were all-conference selections two years ago.
Bruner led the Ichabods in 2019 with 73 total tackles, including 8.5 for loss, while Turner led the secondary with 59 tackles. Manning snagged a team-high three interception to go with his 28 tackles.
"They're going to try and get you out of your comfort zone," Hoskins said. "We already expect they'll have seven or eight guys in the box. That's where our wide receivers come into play, someone's going to have to make a play in order to get them uncomfortable."
On the defensive line, Hoskins said the Blue Tigers will keep their eyes on junior end Braden Rose (6-1, 245) and freshman tackle Justice Akinmoladun (6-0, 290).
"They're solid, all across the board," Hoskins said.
In July, Washburn was picked to finish sixth in the MIAA coaches preseason poll and seventh in the MIAA media poll. Lincoln was voted to finish last in both polls.
"We have nothing to lose," Hoskins said. "We are the bottom feeders in this conference, and we know that. So we're not going to hold anything back, we're going to go after them."