McPherson College football fans left McPherson Stadium with goose bumps and their hearts filled with happiness after Saturday’s 43-14 season-opening victory over Texas Wesleyan.
The Bulldogs and their fans celebrated the life of their former star player Braden Bush, who unexpectedly passed away this summer following complications of an asthma attack. The crowd was asked to wear black in his memory and the student section followed the directive to a T.
The team dedicated the game to Bush, who would have been a three-year starter and a prime candidate for All-KCAC honors in 2017. He had been one of the best defensive backs in the KCAC the last two years, with his game against Kansas Wesleyan in 2015 still one of the most memorable in Bulldog history as he picked off three passes, returning one of them for a touchdown.
Bush was a gregarious personality and his smile was infectious. His loss has left an indelible hole in the Bulldogs’ hearts, not to mention his immeasurable talent on the field is difficult to replace.
The Bulldogs’ tribute to Bush started with the team carrying a flag with his No. 15 on to the field. They paid tribute to him by playing their first defensive play with nobody lined up at free safety since nobody could replace him. That 10-man defense came up with a solid stop and then the Bulldogs called timeout to gather on a specially painted 15-yard line marker, where the team went over and had a moment of silence.
Bush’s memory will be honored every game as his No. 15 flag will be present on the sidelines.
The Bulldogs were sky-high emotionally for their season opener against unknown Texas Wesleyan, which was reviving football after a 76-year absence. I was told their last game was played on December 6, 1941, the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many of their players then left school and enlisted in the service and the program remained dormant until this year.
While the Rams had gone through spring practice and had a roster of more than 100 players, it was evident Mac’s cohesiveness was the difference once it overcame some emotional jitters created by the tone of the day.
The Bulldogs methodically took apart the Rams, as All-KCAC preseason pick Tyrone Campbell scored three times.
The Mac offense will have to get better in a hurry though. Quarterback Ed Crouch had some big gainers after he was flushed out of the pocket as for all their youth, the Rams did have some tremendous athletes in their defensive front seven. Campbell, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards last season, never could get untracked for big yards as the holes just weren’t there. But given his pedigree, I’m sure he’ll be back to his 2017 form soon as the offensive line does return several three-year starters.
The Mac defense gave up just 47 yards in the first three quarters before the Rams made some big plays against the Bulldog reserves. From my first impression, the front four of Isaiah Hill, Charles Tisby, Chandler Tisby and Joey Hale appears formidable. The back seven is still under review, especially the secondary. It really didn’t get tested much, but that will change on Sept. 16 when the Bulldogs play at Lindsborg against a Bethany offense that racked up more than 500 yards against Briar Cliff, more than 300 through the air.
But for a team that had won just once the last two years, it was a good start and a game it had to win.