It’s been forgettable football seasons for McPherson College and Bethany College, but one team will have fond memories to take into the offseason on Saturday.
It’s the renewal of the McPherson County Championship, which takes place at 1:30 p.m. at Lindsborg’s Anderson Field.
The teams, for one of the few times ever in this series, come in as the bottom two in the KCAC. The Bulldogs have one last chance to avoid their first winless season since 1993 as they are 0-8 in the KCAC and 0-9 overall. Bethany is 2-6 in the KCAC and needs a win to jump into a group of teams that are expected to finish 3-6, as this is a week the upper-division teams are playing the lower-division teams. There currently are four 3-5 teams and all are underdogs this week.
The Swedes are 2-8 overall.
The rivalry aspect of this game is more important to the Bulldogs than the Swedes, since Bethany considers Kansas Wesleyan far and away its biggest rival. There is legitimate bad blood between those schools, while the Mac-Bethany rivalry has been more on the friendly side.
Yet, first-year Mac coach Paul Mierkiewicz made it a point early in the week to inform his team this is the biggest game on the schedule.
“I think as the week goes on it’s kind of sunk in,” Mierkiewicz said. “With so many young guys and some many new players, we had to explain to some that it’s almost like a home game with our itinerary. You’re just hopping on a bus for about 15 minutes. We’ve talked about it as the week has gone on and they’re understanding the importance of it.”
That has reflected in some spirited practices.
“We talked to our guys right away about it,” Mierkiewicz said. “Eighty, 85 percent of the teams across the country are playing this week for pride. Our production in practice this week has been good. Our guys have done a good job. We’ve lightened things up, no question, and we looked for some things to have fun with. It’s not only a tough grind for the players, but the coaches, too.”
The Swedes of first-year coach Paul Hubbard have been one of the KCAC’s disappointments as a lot of talent returned from a 7-4 team of last year. Bethany has as much athleticism as any of the KCAC contenders, but has found various ways to lose games. The Swedes followed up a terrific performance against Friends, a 38-14 victory, with a 57-14 clunker last week at Tabor, a game that was just 21-14 after a quarter before the Bluejays ran away and hid.
“That’s what concerns me, I think they’re a talented football team and they’re going to be fired up because of Senior Day,” Mierkiewicz said. “We’ve got to be up to the task.”
Bethany’s big-play man has been receiver Nile Daniel, who Mierkiewicz believes is one of the KCAC’s best players. He’s among the conference leaders in receiving and is one of the most explosive players the Bulldogs will face this year.
“He’s been a big focus for us this week,” Mierkiewicz said. “We’ve got to stop the zone read and split-zone first.”
Former Bulldog Bo Savage, who transferred after his freshman year, has assumed the Swedes' quarterback spot and recently had a 306-yard, four-touchdown game. He also directed the Swedes to a 14-7 victory in last year’s meeting that was dominated by the defenses.
For the Bulldogs, Mierkiewicz said it’s pretty much the same story as it’s been all year — his team needs to get off to a good start. The Bulldogs have played well early in games, but lack of offensive production tires out the defense and that’s when big plays by the opponents occur.