As McPherson College’s football team heads for an apparent 0-10 season, it has to find little, in-game victories where it can.
The Bulldogs experienced one of those on Saturday. Just as it appeared they were going to go a sixth straight game without an offensive touchdown, backup quarterback Christian Johnston hooked up with Erik Corona for a 36-yard scoring strike with 5 seconds left as the Bulldogs avoided a shutout to Sterling, 35-7.
That score set off a wild celebration on the Mac sideline as the end zone has been foreign territory to the team this season. It was only the fourth offensive touchdown and sixth overall. The last offensive touchdown had come in Game 3 against Bethel on Sept. 26.
“At the end there, just to get into the end zone, it’s been a while for those guys, but it’s not for a lack of work,” Mac coach Paul Mierkiewicz said. “We’re just not hitting on all cylinders. When we get something going, there’s a breakdown or two. Give our guys credit, they fought hard.”
In the Bulldogs’ defense, they started six freshmen on the offensive side and seven freshmen on defense against an experienced Sterling team which has won six of its last seven after a 1-2 start.
It was a 28-0 game at the half, but the Mac defense put up a spirited performance in the second half to play the Warriors even, but that came with a caveat as Sterling played its back-ups much of the final quarter.
“I was really proud of our defensive effort in the second half,” Mierkiewicz said. “I thought we rallied to the football once we kind of settled down.”
The game pretty much followed the script of the entire season. The Bulldogs’ offense couldn’t get anything going, the defense got tired and the points started to pile up.
The numbers weren’t all that lopsided. Sterling had 380 yards of total offense to 205 for Mac, which got nearly half of that in the final quarter. Star Warriors quarterback Cedrick Phillips, who came into the game having rushed for 1,013 yards, was held to 70 on 17 carries and he also fumbled three times, though Mac never recovered any of them.
Johnston, who had not completed a pass this season, was 3 for 3 for 63 yards in the final drive to qualify as Mac’s offensive standout.
As usual, the Bulldogs had some nice individual days. Chris Linnin again boomed the ball with eight punts for a 47.5 average, including a 66-yarder. Michael Rabara (13), Dalton Whitfield (12) and Braden Bush (10) all were in double digits in tackles. Alwin Crawford forced three fumbles and blocked a field goal attempt.
The Bulldogs will try to avoid a winless season when they travel to Lindsborg on Saturday to take on county rival Bethany. Mac has not had a winless season since 1993 when it was 0-8 in Bruce Grose’s first year as it played no non-conference games that year and Saint Mary was not in the KCAC at that time.