That wasn’t thunder that was rumbling in the sky here Saturday night.
It was Blake Reed in heaven, stomping his feet and urging on his beloved McPherson College Bulldogs as they attempted to hold off numerous Southwestern College rally after rally.
Finally, in the game’s closing moments as the Moundbuilders were chewing up huge chunks of yards at a double-digit clip, freshman Bulldog defensive back Devontae Emery came up with his second huge play of the game when he picked off a Christian Gordon pass to seal Mac’s first win since 2014, 27-20.
It also was the first victory of the Paul Mierkiewicz era before a wildly enthusiastic McPherson Stadium crowd that was witnessing the ‘Dogs for the first time.
“Blake was definitely looking over us,” Mierkiewicz said as the Bulldogs prevailed in the game that was named in his honor, the Blake Reed Mac-2-Mac Scholarship Game.
Mierkiewicz’s eyes teared up during his postgame interview as he had seen his painfully young team bow its back on several occasions, not to mention it had to overcome a 20-7 first-quarter deficit that was induced by two Mac turnovers that led to 14 Southwestern points.
“I was really happy with the way our defense played,” said Mierkiewicz, whose team came up with several stands in the red zone. “Our kids hung in. I think that’s the difference from last year. Last year we kind of just let it continue to happen to us.”
There were two huge moments in the game. With the score tied at 20 all in the third quarter, the Moundbuilders kicked a 20-yard field goal for an apparent 23-20 lead, but a penalty on Mac was accepted as Southwestern decided to try and score a touchdown. The Bulldogs then made two clutch defensive plays and eventually on fourth down, a 33-yard field goal attempt was missed.
In the fourth quarter, Mac’s Braden Bush picked off a pass in the end zone, but interference was called on the play. However, two Mac sacks pushed the Builders back and a 33-yard field goal was no good.
On the offensive side, Bulldog fans were introduced to quarterback Ed Crouch.
The Magic Man from Florida, via Coffeyville Community College, showed that he’s a special talent, running for 148 yards and throwing for 209 and four touchdowns, the last of which was 43-yarder to Brandt Wolters late in the third quarter that broke the 20-all halftime tie. Jackson Goodmiller, Justin Fagan and Tyrone Campbell also caught scoring passes and Campbell also provided some nails-tough running with 88 yards on 21 carries.
“I think we have the ability to score points,” said Mierkiewicz, whose team in three games has scored more points than the entire season last year. “When you’ve got Ed at quarterback, he’s an explosive player and tough to defend.”
Travis Steenson had his third straight double-digit tackling game with 12 to lead the Bulldogs and Michael Rabara had 10. In addition to his game-clinching interception, Emery had a fumble recovery.
Gordon had a solid game for Southwestern with 291 yards passing and he ran for 60 more.
The Bulldogs now share the KCAC lead with four other teams as the first week of conference play concluded. They go on the road for the third time in four weeks on Saturday as they play another 1-0 KCAC team in Bethel, which dominated Bethany 26-9.
• MAC LEADERS •
Rushing — Crouch 19-148, Campbell 21-88, Melius 3-3.
Passing — Crouch 18-35-1-209.
Receiving — Goodmiller 6-52, Wolters 5-73, Melius 3-21, Campbell 2-32, Schmidt 1-21, Fagan 1-10.