It wasn’t the opportunity to start that gave Washburn linebacker Cedric Gonzalez extra motivation, rather who he was starting in place of Saturday against Nebraska-Kearney that supplied inspiration.
Gonzalez had a career-high 16 tackles in first start at WU, filling in for Austin Tillman, who was sidelined by a shoulder injury.
“I was really playing for Tillman,” Gonzalez said. “I feel really bad he wasn’t (able to play). He’d give everything to be out here with us. I was trying to play hard for the team and for him. He’s a great guy and we have a great team and we always play hard for each other.”
Washburn has been forced to embrace the next-man-up mentality after being hit by an early rash of injuries.
WU quarterback Logan Twehous was ruled out for the season with an upper-back injury after the second game, and the Ichabods also lost running back Curtis Whitten and starting cornerback Dwane Simmons to ACL tears.
Tillman’s status is uncertain for the rest of the season after he suffered the shoulder injury in Week 3 at Lindenwood. The Topeka High product led WU with 102 tackles last year.
Washburn didn’t make it through the 60-28 win over Kearney unscathed, either, with receiver Jace Williams leaving during the first half with an apparent shoulder injury.
Gonzalez, a senior from Tucson, Ariz., combined with Hayden product Derrick McGreevy to record 28 tackles from the starting inside linebacker spots. McGreevy leads the team with 44 tackles while Gonzalez is second with 34.
“McGreevy, Cedric and Tillman, they just play so well,” WU coach Craig Schurig said. “Cedric stepped up, and our guys kind of have a group like that. Jace Williams got hurt, and then Will Hamilton steps up.
“We have guys that can step up like that. We don’t want to lose guys, obviously, because they’re very talented and great leaders on our team, but I think we have a group that will kind of raise their game when we do.”
Hamilton caught six passes for 88 yards from Blake Peterson, who went 17 of 31 for 219 yards with two touchdowns in his second straight start.
Washburn (3-1) ran away from UNK with a 39-0 first half and scored touchdowns in all three phases.
“We didn’t start that strong at Lindenwood, so we felt we needed to make a statement,” Gonzalez said.
The Ichabods will play at Pittsburg State at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Gorillas (2-2) will be coming off a 45-11 loss at home to Lindenwood.