NORTH NEWTON — McPherson College’s frustration level was on simmer in the first half Saturday night, then reached a full-out scalding boil in the second half.
In one of the most forgettable nights in recent Bulldog memory, Mac consistently got in its own way in a totally unexpected 13-0 loss to Bethel College, which actually now has a two-game KCAC winning streak dating back to last year when it closed the season by beating Bethany for its only conference win.
The Threshers were the overwhelming pick to finish in the KCAC cellar at the conference’s Media Day in August.
Possessors of one of the all-time worst defenses in KCAC history last year when opposing teams routinely padded their offensive stats with 50-point games, second-year Bethel coach Marty Mathis has the Thresher defense playing much like the Marian University team he used to coordinate defensively when it won the national championship two years ago.
“Coach Mathis is a tremendous coach,” McPherson College’s first-year head coach Steve Fox said. “His resume speaks for itself. He had his defense ready to play.”
But this game will be remembered for two reasons — a lightning delay of nearly 2 hours and the Bulldogs being flagged for an almost unheard of seven personal fouls.
“Good teams don’t do those things,” an obviously frustrated Fox said. “I take full responsibility for that. We’ve got to address those things.”
Fox said he wasn’t sure what some of the flags were for. “They (the officials) wouldn’t give me an explanation,” he said.
Many of them came late when the Bulldogs’ emotions were running high.
It was either a case of great defense by both teams or terrible offense. The Bulldogs were hampered by the loss of exciting new quarterback JT Levenseller, who was left home with flu symptoms that had sidelined him much of the week.
That left the game in the hands of first-time starter Cody Groff, who threw for 108 yards, but a couple of costly picks. The first interception set up a first-quarter touchdown pass of 25 yards from Brandon Steed to Greg Parham, who made a one-handed catch despite excellent Bulldog coverage. That was the game’s only scoring until 3 minutes from the end when backup quarterback David Bronson skittered in from 10 yards to make it 13-0.
That must have looked like 53-0 to the Bulldogs, who totaled just 113 yards on the ground and 221 for the night. They did have a couple of chances inside the Bethel 5, but one drive ended on a fourth-down play being stuffed when Mac needed a half-yard and the other proved fruitless when a field goal from extra-point range was missed.
The Threshers had only 88 yards on the ground and 96 through the air as the Bulldog defense certainly played well enough to warrant a victory.
“I’ve got to take my hat off to our defense,” Fox said. “We always play with high energy and a lot of effort. I’m very happy with those guys tonight.”
It’s clear what Levenseller means to the Bulldogs. They have just one touchdown in eight quarters that he’s not played and in his only appearance, Mac scored 28 points against a defense that could be among the Top 25 in the country, MidAmerica Nazarene.
The Bulldogs must now turn the page as they ready themselves for their home opener against Kansas Wesleyan on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
Complete stats were not available due to a computer malfunction in Bethel College’s Sports Information Department.