LINDSBORG — McPherson College football coach Paul Mierkiewicz had a tough choice to make at the start of the second half on Saturday.
Did he want to have the strong south wind at his back in the third quarter or the fourth?
Mierkiewicz decided to take the wind in the final quarter after his team had led arch-rival Bethany College 21-17 at halftime.
The result was the wind going out of his team’s sails, as the Swedes took advantage of great field position to roll up 24 third-quarter points and wound up pulling away for a 48-21 victory.
The Bulldogs closed out their first winless season since 1993 with an 0-10 record (0-9 in the KCAC), but it was by far the most competitive they had been all year. Bethany finished in a five-way gaggle for fifth place in the KCAC with a 3-6 mark, as they joined Friends, Bethel, Saint Mary and Southwestern. Only four of the 10 KCAC teams won at least four games this year, as the conference experienced a noticeable down cycle.
Bethany was 3-8 overall after going 7-4 last season.
The Bulldogs had led only once in a game all year — for all of 19 seconds at Friends — but on three separate occasions they held the upper hand in this one. Braden Bush’s second pick-six of the year, a 60-yarder, put the Bulldogs in front 7-0 in the first quarter.
After Jasaan Eley tied the game for Bethany, Mac quarterback Chris Linnin raced 74 yards on a scramble for a 14-7 lead as the first quarter ended. It was the first time Mac had led after a quarter this year.
De’Onte Jones tied the game for the Swedes at 14, but again Mac went ahead 21-14 on a 7-yard scoot by D’Avonte Doucet. Before the half was over, Adam Maish crushed a 45-yard field goal into a stiff breeze to pull Bethany within 21-17.
“We had to make a decision in the third quarter, do we want to take the wind or do we want it in the fourth?” Mierkiewicz said. “We were hoping we could get through (the quarter) offensively by getting a few first downs and flipping the field (position). They go down and score (a field goal to start the second half), we go 3-and-out and bang, they hit us with the reserve (a 49-yard Nile Daniel TD) and we were kind of chasing the rest of the way. We just had a tough time with the run game again. We knew that was an area, the defensive line, where we were young.”
Eley, Cory McManus and Nathaniel Ocran all scored touchdowns as the Swedes’ ground game crushed the Bulldogs. Bethany’s huge offensive line bullied the Mac defense for a staggering 517 yards rushing, 325 of that in the second half as the Bulldogs basically were defenseless as they were giving up about 50 to 60 pounds a man.
Ocran and Eley finished with 197 and 124 yards rushing, respectively. Bethany quarterback Bo Savage was just 2 of 8 for 17 yards, but his job basically was to hand the ball off and let his offensive line do the rest.
“I am really proud of Nate, he did a phenomenal job,” Bethany coach Paul Hubbard said. “Anytime a back gets near 200 yards on the ground it's an accomplishment and team effort. I was really proud of our defense, they played extremely well in the second half. It was great to see them respond after the miscues in the first half. I am excited to get on the road recruiting. I think we can use our late-season success to propel our recruiting this off season."
The Swedes won two of their final three, including a 38-14 victory over Friends.
Linnin had a nice day for Mac. He ran for 104 yards and threw for another 134 despite running for his life as he had little protection most of the day. Michael Ramos, one of the few Bulldog seniors, caught five passes for 86 yards.
Bulldog linebacker Dalton Whitfield was sensational once again defensively with 16 tackles and Michael Rabara added 12.
Mierkiewicz said the recruiting process has already started and admits while he wants to build the program with freshmen, he’s probably going to have to add a large group of transfers to give the team some maturity. The Bulldogs started 13 freshmen in the game.