Burkett’s injury and turnovers costly for football
Hoping to build off of its success last week against Kenyon College, the Washington University football team went into Saturday’s game hungry and determined to defeat DePauw University. Down by 10 in the fourth quarter, junior quarterback John O’Connor lobbed a 38-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Drew Sexton with more than 11 minutes on the clock, leaving plenty of time for another scoring drive.
However, O’Connor and the offense couldn’t put the team in scoring position again, leading to a 17-14 loss for the Bears.
“It was really tough,” head coach Larry Kindbom said. “I didn’t really see us take off during the course of the game. We controlled a lot of the game, but we turned the ball over. We had some costly penalties that played a factor in our loss…we were playing hard, but we didn’t get it done.”
For the past few weeks, several of the team’s major players have been missing due to injuries, including sophomore defensive back Ryan Bednar, junior defensive lineman Nelson Nwumeh, junior quarterback Eric Daginella and several others. On Saturday’s game against the Tigers, Wash. U.’s senior quarterback Dan Burkett suffered a left shoulder injury while running out of bounds near the end of the second quarter. Burkett departed the game, leaving O’Connor the job of leading the offense.
“Burkett was doing really well in the game until that serious hit,” Kindbom said. “We’ll have to wait and see what the tests say. It was definitely a tough blow for us as a team, especially since we were getting into a good rhythm on offense…nevertheless, we have guys here who are willing to step up, which is great for us.”
On top of the injury problem, the Bears committed four turnovers, three of which were interceptions. In their four losses this season, the Red and Green have averaged more than three turnovers per contest.
“You never want to give up turnovers,” senior defensive lineman Will Small said. “You practice so hard to have a perfect game every time. The most that we can do is to stay calm and execute on each play better.”
Given the unexpected playing time, O’Connor played with as much confidence and poise as possible. Although he had some trouble establishing a good rhythm with his receivers, O’Connor improved on each possession, made some good passes to Sexton, who made seven catches for 121 yards, and led a 39-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Completing nine of his 20 passes for 123 yards and a TD, O’Connor looked fine but couldn’t manage to sustain long drives. He also threw three costly interceptions, one of which occurred in the end zone.
“[O’Connor] got us into pretty good scoring positions,” Small said. “Everybody was, for the most part, pleased with how he did…once he started to feel comfortable, he seemed very poised.”
Special teams played an important role in the fourth quarter. The Bears were able to block a DePauw punt, which helped set up short field position for O’Connor and the offense, resulting in a touchdown. However, the special teams may have also hurt the Bears’ chance of at least forcing overtime because senior kicker Eric Chalifour missed a 27-yard field goal in the third quarter.
“I really didn’t have a good look at the kick,” Kindbom said. “There’s obviously a lot of people who are involved in the kick, and it’s easy to just blame it on [Eric]…but ultimately the kick wasn’t made, and we’ll try to make some adjustments.”
The Bears’ defense played consistently well throughout the game, as it was able to achieve its goal of stopping the run. Although the defense limited DePauw to only 64 rushing yards, it struggled through the air, giving up 213 yards.
“Our goal is to shut down the run, and we’re getting better and better,” Kindbom said. “We still can improve on the passing game, but we made the plays that we needed to, and we did a fine job overall.”
With only half of the season left, Wash. U. is staring at a bleak 1-4 record. The team has a bye week to regroup and, most importantly, get healthy. Hopes of turning this season around are still high among the players, and the team is excited for its home game against No. 17 Wabash College on Oct. 13 at 1 p.m.
“Even though we’re 1-4, this team’s attitude has been great. Everyone is very positive and still excited,” Small said. “It’s been fun to see how the team has grown and improved. Wabash is going to be a great game, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”