It may appear to some to be a meaningless season-ending football game between two KCAC teams that are in the second division.
But for McPherson College coach Paul Mierkiewicz, Saturday’s 1 p.m. Senior Day game against Saint Mary is special because the seniors who have been with him all four years were his first class of recruits.
When Mierkiewicz arrived at Mac for the 2015 season, he was literally handed a clean slate. Most of the potential returnees went elsewhere as they did not want to be on their third coach in as many years.
In fact, Mierkiewicz didn’t even have enough returning players for a spring game.
But on Saturday, he’ll be sending off 18 seniors, many of whom endured a winless season their first year and just one win in 2016.
“To say it (the first year) was dismal is a compliment,” said Mierkiewicz, who started as many as 12 freshmen his first year while going up against other teams’ juniors and seniors. “I’ve had a blast coaching these guys. To have 18 seniors go out when we had 15 (players total) to start, these guys have hung through it and battled through it. All season long, even through this last 5 weeks, it’s been fun to go to practice because these kids have been working hard and they’re fun to be around. People want to look at the (won-loss) record and I get it, but these guys have been fun to be around. It’s going to pretty emotional and I’m going to miss these guys.”
The Bulldogs had such a promising start to the season with a 3-1 record, but injuries have accelerated the losing as last week’s 41-18 loss to Sterling — the fifth in a row — dropped them to 3-6, the same record as Saint Mary.
But whereas the Bulldogs have been trending downward, Saint Mary has been on the uptick. It surprised many around the KCAC last week by defeating Southwestern, 49-35.
“I just think they’ve just gotten on a roll offensively and they’re playing better on defense,” Mierkiewicz said. “Drew Cortez (a four-year starter) runs the show. He calls the plays at the line of scrimmage. He’s been doing it for 4 years, so confusing him is going to be hard to do.”
Cortez hasn’t put up the passing numbers as his previous year, but he’s warmed up the last couple of weeks and is always capable of putting up 400-yards plus. This year he has a good running game to complement the passing attack.
“I don’t want to see him again,” Mierkiewicz said with a laugh. “We’re just going to play aggressive and create turnovers because that’s what we do.”
The biggest key, Mierkiewicz said, is getting off to a better start. Mac has struggled at the outset of games recently, like last week when it gave up 14 points 5 minutes of the game.
“We have to start better,” he said. “It’s a lot easier playing ahead than it is coming from behind, especially as a play caller.”
If the Bulldogs win, it would represent the third straight year they have improved their victory total. Considering that the program had bottomed out prior to his arrival, Mierkiewicz is making steady progress, which was slowed this year by injuries to key players.
If the Bulldogs can win, they would be 4-1 at home. And a 4-6 KCAC record could move them as high as a tie for sixth depending on what else happens on Saturday.