There was an air of mystery surrounding McPherson College’s Bulldogs going into the 2020 football season opener on Saturday.
Not much was known about them by the rest of the KCAC except they would be directed by a new quarterback for the first time since 2016 and there weren’t a lot of returning starters when compared to a team like Bethel, which virtually came back intact.
The Bulldogs had to open on the road at Sterling, a team that had defeated them 8 years in a row. The Warriors also returned more All-KCAC players from last year than any team in the conference and were picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll.
So, expectations were somewhat tempered since history was working against the Bulldogs and quite frankly, the average MC fan did not know exactly what cards second-year head coach Jeremiah Fiscus had in his hand since he was playing them close to the vest in the preseason.
But now the cat (or dog in this case) is out of the bag.
McPherson College is going to be a tough out for anybody. It went into Sterling and laid waste to the Warriors’ defense, shredding the normally outstanding unit for 611 yards and 58 points in a 58-40 victory, which sent a few tremors around the conference. Sterling is always one of the toughest places to win at and the Bulldogs never trailed after taking a 13-10 lead in the second quarter.
Fiscus is very low-key. I talked with him repeatedly during the preseason and he never tipped his hand, other than saying if his team does all the little things well and doesn’t make mistakes, it has a chance to be pretty good.
The Bulldogs certainly displayed a KCAC championship offense. Fiscus unleashed a cadre of talented newcomers in the skill positions to go along with an offensive line that returned a majority of its starters.
Transfer quarterback Joshua Pisik needed only one game to show he’ll be among the best in the KCAC. He showed great touch on back-shoulder throws and except for a couple of ill-advised attempts, he was lights-out. He has set the bar unrealistically high for the rest of the season, completing 31 of 39 for 432 yards and 5 TDs. He also hot-footed into the end zone for another score and on Monday was selected KCAC Offensive Player of the Week.
Fiscus made it a focal point to recruit big-time playmakers at receiver and he brought in three newcomers of various sizes who are difference-makers.
“Pocket Rocket” Melvin Reid, who is listed at 5-6 and 140 pounds, was a human highlight reel. He had a 103-yard kickoff return after Sterling had pulled within 20-19. He also burned the Warriors’ defense for a 63-yard TD catch and added a 12-yarder for a score.
Jae’Lon Ogelsby, whose last stop was at Stephen F. Austin where McPherson’s Brad Underwood once served as head basketball coach, actually is the most heralded of the newcomers. He had 4 catches for 90 yards, and scores of 64 and 14 yards. Both Ogelsby and Reid need only one sliver of space and they’re off to the races.
The other new receiver is rangy Austin Neely, who had 8 catches for 73 yards and a score. He is a matchup nightmare at 6-3 with long arms.
That trio joins reliable Ben Nikkel, the McPherson High grad who has been a staple of the offense since Day 1 on campus. He had 10 catches for 123 yards, many of them to keep drives alive.
On the ground, the Mac running game had its moments, including a 41-yard run by LaMeshio Hill where the big man showed surprising speed, while Corey Davis had a 24-yarder. Dewayne Likes, who missed all but the first game last season, knocked off the rust to give the Bulldogs a three-headed monster.
The Mac defense has some work to do as it gave up 451 yards and was especially vulnerable against the run. Sterling averaged nearly 7 yards a rush, but it’s a unit that’s practically brand new. McPherson High product Drew Labertew came up with a fumble recovery and sack.
There will be a lot of time spent on special teams this week. Mac failed on five extra points, including three missed kicks, another where the snap was botched and the Bulldogs also failed while trying for 2. It didn’t cost the Bulldogs the game, but if it had gone down to the wire it could have been a killer.
And the Bulldogs also were hit with 12 penalties, many of them big ones. I attribute it in part to the unbridled enthusiasm of just being able to be on the field after COVID-19 threatened to halt the season before it started.
Mac will get the ultimate measuring stick this week when it makes its home debut against Bethel, which was picked No. 2 in the KCAC preseason poll.