McPherson College’s football team had just given up 21 points in the blink of an eye on Saturday in the first quarter of its season opener against the No. 14-ranked team in the nation, defending Sooner Athletic Conference champion Langston University of Oklahoma.
An avalanche appeared to be under way at Wichita State’s Cessna Stadium in the Heartland Classic. A Bulldog team picked to finish ahead of only Bethany in the KCAC preseason poll appeared to be on its way to an ego-sapping loss and it had to figure out a way to not be embarrassed.
But those 21 points, 14 of which were gift-wrapped due to a fumble that set up a 4-yard drive and pick-6, proved to be the only points the supposedly high-powered Lions would score.
Meanwhile, a Mac offense that was stuck in neutral for nearly three quarters received a turbo-boost from the flying feet of Quashad Washington, who ripped off an electrifying 70-yard TD run to make it a semblance of a game at 21-7.
In the fourth quarter, however, this Bulldog team played like one that was finding its lowly preseason ranking appalling.
Mac nearly roared all the way back with two touchdowns, the latter coming on the game’s final play that drew it within a point. With momentum on their side, the Bulldogs went for 2 and the win, but the pass try was tipped and the Lions avoided the upset with a 21-20 victory.
New Mac coach Jeremiah Fiscus isn’t into moral victories, but even he admitted after the game he could not have been more proud of the fight his team showed when it was on the verge of getting blown out. He acknowledged the offense struggled for three quarters, but there are simply too many playmakers to keep it down for 60 minutes. The Magic Man, quarterback Ed Crouch, rallied his team, with his favorite target being the acrobatic Ben Nikkel, as the former Bullpup had 7 catches for 102 yards, all in the second half. He caught the touchdown on the final play of the game with a tremendous individual effort.
What was most impressive, however, was the Mac defense. The Bulldogs’ line stuffed the Lions’ running game and kept the big plays in the passing game at a minimum. Mac actually wound up holding Langston to 279 yards after routinely giving up more than 500 a game last year. And it did that without two of its top defensive linemen who are expected to return this week.
Fiscus, who played for the Bulldogs under coaches David Cunningham and Brian Ward, has a plan in place and is very thorough. He and his staff have done a tremendous job in recruiting, swelling the numbers to more than 120 players. He has created fierce competition in practice as players no longer are guaranteed a starting position as the depth chart is fluid.
Fiscus had been involved as an assistant at programs such as TCU under coach Gary Patterson and at NCAA Division II Henderson State, where he was a recruiting coordinator. I believe if you give him one more recruiting class, the Bulldogs are going to make a rocket climb up the standings.
What impresses me most is his calm demeanor as he doesn’t get too high or too low. His players appear to have bought into his vision and they play hard for him. That was evident on Saturday when after the game he had players telling him that he made the right decision in going for the win instead of the tie and they would have been disappointed otherwise.
The Bulldogs now open conference play on Saturday hosting Sterling, which is a KCAC contender after pulling a mild upset of Avila, which was picked No. 3 in the preseason poll. The Warriors have a myriad of skill players and as much speed as any team in the conference, including expected champion Kansas Wesleyan. The Bulldogs must put Saturday’s disappointment in the past and make improvement over Week 1, especially on the offensive side as the protection for Crouch must be better and they have to establish the run game.
I think this is going to be a fun team to watch, so take in the game on Saturday at McPherson Stadium.