Dane Simoneau threw for 424 yards and two touchdowns and 15th-ranked Washburn University overcame a furious rally by 11th-ranked Abilene Christian University to beat the Wildcats 52-49 in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs Saturday afternoon in Yager Stadium in Topeka, Kan.
The offensive shootout featured two of the nation’s best quarterbacks, each of whom are regional finalists for the Harlon Hill Trophy as Division II’s player of the year. ACU’s Mitchell Gale completed 29 of 48 passes for 506 yards and four touchdowns, the second most passing yards in a game in Wildcat history. Simoneau completed 23 of 59 passes in becoming the No. 2 career passer in the Mid America Intercollegiate Athletics Association record book.
ACU racked up 688 yards of total offense in the loss. Senior running back Daryl Richardson had 247 all-purpose yards (132 rushing and 115 receiving) and scored two TDs. Taylor Gabriel had six catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns and Darrell Cantu-Harkless caught five passes for 117 yards. Gale overcame seven sacks and three interceptions in the most productive passing game for a Wildcat quarterback since Jim Reese threw for 564 yards in 1976.
Washburn totaled 548 yards of offense, powered by Justin Cooper’s four rushing touchdowns and 107 yards rushing, and Matt Kobbeman’s six catches for 131 yards and one TD.
For more than two quarters, ACU endured what looked like an eventual Ichabod rout. Washburn scored on its first seven possessions in building a 45-21 lead with just under 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
But ACU turned resilient, ripping off 22 unanswered points of its own.
On the first drive of the comeback, Gale connected with wide receiver Gabriel on a short pass on the right sideline, and the sophomore turned it into a 71-yard scoring play. On its next possession, Gale led his team on a four-play, 82-yard drive that included a 58-yard pass to Cantu-Harkless and ended with a 10-yard pass to Gabriel. Richardson powered the next drive with two clutch running and receiving plays, wrapping it up with a 34-yard scoring pass from Gale. A two-point conversion pass from Gale to fullback Justin Andrews drew to within three points, 45-42 with 11:51 left in the game.
However, the Ichabods bounced back. Ronnell Garner caught a pass in triple coverage from Simoneau with 4:10 to play and ran 61 yards for a touchdown and his team’s decisive points. ACU came right back with a seven-play, 80-yard drive of its own to draw within three points with 37 seconds left when Charcandrick West scored on a 28-yard run. Washburn recovered the Wildcats’ onside kick and ran out the clock.
ACU finished the season 8-3 overall and 7-1 in the Lone Star Conference. Washburn moved to 10-2 overall and 7-2 in the MIAA. The Wildcats are one of only four schools to qualify for the national playoffs each of the last six years. Others are North Alabama, Albany State (Ga.) and Northwest Missouri State.