This one was for Braden.
On an emotional day as the McPherson College Bulldogs played Texas Wesleyan in honor of their star teammate Braden Bush, who passed away this summer, the story had a happy ending on Saturday as Mac dominated the Rams for three quarters before coming away with a 43-14 victory to kick off the 2017 season in style before an enthusiastic crowd dressed in black to honor Bush’s memory.
Bush died unexpectedly on June 16 from complications of an asthma attack. Mac honored him by carrying out a flag with his No. 15, which it will have on the sidelines of every game. It also played its first defensive play with only 10 defenders, as nobody lined up at Bush’s starting safety spot. After the first play, the Bulldogs called timeout and went over to the 15-yard line on the south end of the field and said a team prayer.
It was the Rams’ first game in 76 years as the school has brought back football after a lengthy absence. Much of their team consisted of freshmen and sophomores.
It was evident early the edge in experience belonged to the Bulldogs, who equaled their 2016 victory total in the first week.
Still, Mac coach Paul Mierkiewicz said his team started slowly by making a slew of penalties and mistakes, perhaps overly hyped from the emotional energy.
“You look back at that first quarter and I think we looked liked the team that hadn’t played football in 70 years,” he said. “Just a lot of uncharacteristic stuff. Typically they say your biggest improvement is from Week 1 to Week 2, so I hope that’s true.”
The Bulldogs were the benefactors of the Rams putting the ball on the ground several times, including high snaps on punts that led to large chunks of minus yardage.
While Mac did score 43 points and put up 370 yards, Mierkiewicz knows there’s a lot of work to do. Quarterback Ed Crouch ran for 75 yards and threw for 201 in just three quarters of play, but very seldom was he able to set his feet and throw as the Rams were athletic up front and harassed him much of the game. The Bulldog running game also struggled as there were few gaping holes.
“There were some plays we made,” he said. “They gave us some things in the pass game that we could gain an advantage. His (Crouch) ability to run, that makes life difficult. The second half we saw so much blitz action, it was more we were looking at an opportunity to get some kids some rest.”
Mac led 9-0 after a quarter on a short Tyrone Campbell run and a Jack Reid 20-yard field goal, but then started to distance itself in the second quarter as Campbell ran for his second score and caught a swing pass from Crouch for another score. Crouch connected as well with Jackson Goodmiller for a TD and Reid kicked his second field goal as Mac went into the locker room with a 33-0 lead.
A Thomas Lanktree 41-yard interception return swelled the lead to 40-0 and Reid, a freshman in his first game, kicked his third field goal to make it 43-0. The Rams did score twice in the fourth quarter against the Mac reserves for cosmetic purposes.
It was a sloppy game as the teams, as expected, were penalized heavily, common for a first game. Mac had 148 yards on 11 flags and the Rams had 68, also on 11 penalties as it turned into a long afternoon.
Campbell had only 26 yards rushing, but 66 in receiving and three total scores. Goodmiller led in catches with four, good for 52 yards. Dominic DeLuca, Joseph Hunter and Isaiah Hill all tied with 6 tackles and Hill provided a strong pass rush coming from off the edge. The Mac defense gave up just 47 yards through three quarters before the Rams finished with 189, 82 coming on one long TD pass.
Mierkiewicz is glad his team has a week off to prepare for Bethany as he noted it has some things to clean up before traveling to Lindsborg on Sept. 16 for a 7 p.m. game with the Swedes, who were impressive in a 36-23 victory over Brian Cliff on Saturday.