Paul Mierkiewicz had been frustrated by the lack of turnovers his McPherson College football team had created through the first three games of the season.
The Bulldogs made up for it here Saturday night.
A blocked punt and three fumble recoveries in the first half led to a 31-point explosion and the Bulldogs then turned to their defense in the second half to preserve a 48-14 victory over Bethel, as once again they triumphed during the Blake Reed Memorial Game at McPherson Stadium.
The Bulldogs won for the first time in the KCAC as they are now 1-2 while improving to 2-2 overall, exceeding last year’s one-win season.
Rinaldo Gagiano started the game off with a bang for the Bulldogs by blocking a Bethel punt and recovering it in the end zone for a touchdown on the game’s opening series. On the next Thresher offensive snap, Mac’s Isaiah Hill came up with a fumble recovery, which resulted in a 30-yard Jack Reid field goal.
In the second quarter, Mac’s Ben Padilla recovered a fumbled punt, which set up an Ed Crouch 6-yard scoring dash.
The Bulldogs also had a couple of nice drives in the half, as Crouch hooked up with Jackson Goodmiller for a 10-yard TD pass and Armond McCrae had a TD run of 2 yards.
After Bethel did score twice before the end of the first half to make it 31-14, Mac dominated the second half. Reid kicked a second field goal for a 34-14 lead and Crouch then scored his second TD on a dazzling 31-yard dash. He hooked up with Eman McNeil for a 16-yard TD pass to complete the scoring.
The defense gave up only 149 yards on the night, just 9 in the second half as the Bulldogs teed off on quarterbacks Zach Esau and Dominic Webb.
“I thought we played really well defensively,” Mierkiewicz said. “Then we did some really nice things on special teams.”
The Bulldogs were still bit by the penalty bugaboo as they were hit for 10, but all-in-all after last week’s stinker at Southwestern this was some welcomed relief.
“I thought it was a really good effort from start to finish,” Mierkiewicz said. “Offensively we were having a tough time finding our identity in the second quarter, but came out in the third quarter and played a lot better.”
The Bulldogs made a concerted effort to run the football, with freshman Corey Davis slashing to 133 yards on 28 carries, while Crouch hot-footed to 103 on 13 tries, part of a 262-yard team effort on the ground. Mac also was stingy against the run as Bethel had just 63 yards on 38 attempts.
“I thought we ran the outside zone well and had some nice things going on inside,” Mierkiewicz said. “I thought we played very well in the offensive line, probably collectively the best we’ve played all season.”
Crouch struggled in the passing game game by going just 7 of 21 for 76 yards, but he did hit the TD payoff with his strikes to Goodmiller and McNeal.
Patrick Calip and Thomas Lanktree came up with 10 tackles apiece to lead the Mac defense, while Charles Tisby wreaked havoc with his pressure up front, along with Hill.
Tanner Williams and Alwin Crawford had interceptions for Mac, which played with much more fire on the defensive side after giving up 102 points in the the last two games.
“It was a big-time recovery for them because it’s been a couple of tough games,” Mierkiewicz said. “We knew they were going to be physical with us... two years ago here they swallowed us up and last year they did about whatever they wanted. All-in-all, our effort was really good.”
McPherson College linebacker Dominic DeLuca was named as the recipient of the annual Blake Reed Memorial Scholarship during a halftime ceremony.
Mac will try to get past the .500 mark on the season when it travels Saturday to play at Kansas Wesleyan in Salina. The Coyotes escaped with a 34-29 victory at Southwestern on Saturday.