STERLING — McPherson College quarterback Ed Crouch and counterpart Cedrick Phillips of Sterling seemed to be locked in a game of “anything you can do, I can do better.”
The KCAC’s two most athletic and breathtaking quarterbacks were at their dazzling best on Saturday, but when the 3-hour-plus shootout that produced more than 1,000 yards ended at Smisor Stadium it was Phillips with the bigger numbers that led to more points.
Phillips, who you can already write in as the KCAC Player of the Year, was 31 of 44 for 460 yards and five touchdowns to lead the 15th-ranked Warriors to a 44-31 victory.
Crouch was 22 of 48 for 340 yards and three touchdowns as the Bulldogs put a scare into the Warriors. Down 34-10 early in the third quarter, Crouch led Mac to 21 uninterrupted points to pull the ‘Dogs within three after three quarters before the depth and speed of the Warriors allowed them to pull away.
“You’ve got two quarterbacks that are just a pain in the backside to defend,” Mac coach Paul Mierkiewicz said. “Ed for different reasons and their guy for different reasons.”
Despite the loss, this performance was far better than last week when Mac was blown out really for the first time all year.
“I was really proud of the way our defense stepped up,” Mierkiewicz said as the Warriors had been averaging more than 60 points a game during the last month. “It was 20-7 in the first quarter and I’m not normally a smart guy, but 20 in four quarters is 80 points. That’s a long afternoon.”
The Mac defense produced five turnovers, including picks of Phillips by Kavoderic McIntrye, Michael Rabara and Travis Steenson as well as fumble recoveries by Joey Hale and Tyrone Campbell.
After the 20-point explosion in the first quarter, the Warriors were heading for a scoreless second quarter before Phillips threw a 21-yard pass to Nathan Frame with 1.2 seconds left in the half that was a backbreaker for a 27-10 lead.
Then when Sterling scored on its second play of the second half for a 34-10 lead, it appeared the rout was on. But Crouch would have none of it.
He ran for a short touchdown to make it 34-17, then fired scoring strikes of 8 and 13 yards to Brandt Wolters and Jackson Goodmiller, respectively, and suddenly it was 34-31 and the smell of upset was in the air. Sterling, though, scored the game’s final 10 points.
Wolters finished with 127 yards on eight catches, two of them for touchdowns. TJ Brown had 10 catches for 198 yards to lead Sterling.
Sterling moved to 7-2, but is probably on the outside of the national playoffs unless a lot of things happen.
The Bulldogs, now 1-7 in the KCAC and 1-9 overall, close out the season at home Saturday against Bethany, which has the exact same record. There will be a special noon starting time.
• STATS •
• Mac Listed First •
First Downs — 23, 32. Rushes-Yards — 37-77; 31-202. Passing — 22-48-1-340; 31-44-3-460. Punts-Avg. — 4-43.5; 1-59.0. Fumbles-Lost — 0-0, 2-2. Penalties-Yards — 3-35, 9-114.
• LEADERS •
• Rushing •
Mac — Crouch 22-46, Campbell 10-26, Melius 1-8, Tiernan 2-8, Garza 1-(-11).
Sterling — Rios 9-102, Chisolm 8-43, Phillips 8-33, Brown 3-22, Hudspeth 3-2.
• Passing •
Mac — Crouch 22-48-1-340.
Sterling — Phillips 31-44-3-460.
• Receiving •
Mac — Wolters 8-127, Goodmiller 3-57, Giron 2-47, Campbell 5-46, Schmidt 2-35, Aleman 1-19, Fagan 1-9.
Sterling — Brown 10-198, Frame 9-129, Bennett 6-90, Hudspeth 4-37, Newell 1-6, Rios 1-2, Chisolm 1-(-2).