McPherson College’s dramatic 30-24 comeback victory here Saturday over Kansas Wesleyan in the Blake Reed Mac2Mac Scholarship Game epitomized everything he stood for.
Blake, for four years McPherson College’s football manager and most loyal supporter, died in 2010 at the age of 22 after a lifelong battle with Muscular Dystrophy.
The Bulldogs displayed Blake’s bigger-than-life heart for the first victory in the Steve Fox era, as they thrilled the large home crowd in their first game this year at McPherson Stadium after three straight difficult road losses.
The Bulldogs were down 10-0 just 10 minutes into the game and appeared to be on the fast track to Nowheresville.
“The quick 10 didn’t catch us off guard,” said Fox, grinning from ear to ear after his first win as a head coach. “I talked about weathering the storm before the game because they’re a great offense, uptempo. I knew they were going to get yards and points and we had to weather that storm.”
The Coyotes, who play at supersonic speed, dominated the early stages with their no-huddle attack. They ran 27 plays in the first five minutes alone and 31 plays in the quarter, but the Bulldogs finally settled down defensively and their offense started to respond on the other side of the ball.
Before the first quarter was over, MC’s Cody Groff had hooked up with Michael Ramos from 11 yards to slice the deficit to 10-7.
Mac again went down 10, but managed to pull within a field goal by halftime, 17-14, as emerging star Miles Balthazor barreled in from 13 yards.
Wesleyan pushed the lead out to 24-14 on a Taylor Sachs dive midway through the third quarter, but then things started to get interesting.
A 22-yard Christian Guerra-Barbosa field goal moved the Bulldogs within a touchdown late in the third quarter, which set the stage for a fourth quarter to remember.
Mac finally caught up at 24-all with 12:24 left on a Groff dive. The Bulldogs finally took their first lead of the night, 30-24, when Balthazor rumbled in from 13 yards, though the extra point was missed.
On Wesleyan’s final two possessions, the Bulldog defense came up immense. Kavoderic McIntyre picked off a Jake Curran pass with 58 seconds left when the Coyotes were driving, but KW smartly used all three timeouts and the Bulldogs had to punt the ball away as they burned only 22 seconds off the clock. While Mac fans were nervous given how quickly the Coyotes could strike, Trea Lott sent everyone home happy with another pick of Curran.
The Mac offense, which went uptempo for the first time this year, put up 325 yards on 76 plays. Groff, filling in for unavailable starter JT Levenseller, was 18 of 38 for 157 yards and also ran for another 52. Balthazor, the find of the night, replaced injured starter Terrance Jones and bowling balled his way to 116 yards on 25 carries, showing amazing balance and the ability to run through tackles.
“He’s real quiet,” Fox said of Balthazor. “I think I’ve heard him say two words since he moved in here. He works hard. He speaks with his pads and his feet.”
Groff, a redshirt freshman, also earned high marks.
“He grew up last week and just continued this week,” Fox said. “We put complete faith in him and told him he’s our guy and keep plugging away.”
As much as the offense earned its moment in the sun, the player of the night was Bulldog senior linebacker Trent Forrester, who may have had the greatest defensive game in Mac history and one that should earn him serious consideration for NAIA National Player of the Week.
Forrester had 14 solo tackles and 10 assists. He also had four tackles for losses, a pass break-up and blocked a punt. It was extra special, since he grew up in Salina, attending Salina South High, which is not far from the Kansas Wesleyan campus.
“That’s unbelievable,” Fox said of Forrester’s numbers. “He’s a great player. You know he’s his own biggest critic and there’s something about Wesleyan, him being from Salina South, that just brings out the best in him.”
Ashton Serpas was in on 12 tackles and Jimmy Wilson had nine, as well as many pressures as he was blitzing all night.
The Mac defense certainly earned a day off. It was on the field for 98 plays, as Curran was 30 of 55 for 329 yards, while the Coyotes also ran it 43 times, but were stoned for just 95 yards as the Mac middle was like a fortress.
The Bulldogs, now 1-1 in the KCAC with seven other teams, go to Ottawa on Saturday, their fourth road game in five weeks. They play four of their last six at home.
• STATISTICS •
• Mac Listed First •
First Downs — 21, 29. Rushes-Yards — 38-168; 43-95. Passing — 18-38-2-157; 30-55-2-329. Punts-Avg. — 7-36.4; 6-32.2. Fumbles-Lost — 3-2; 2-2. Penalties-Yards — 11-102; 11-80.
• INDIVIDUAL LEADERS •
• Rushing •
Mac — Balthazor 25-116, Groff 12-52.
KW — Jones 13-32, Sachs 13-27, Curran 14-24.
• Passing •
Mac — Groff 18-38-2-157.
KW — Curran 30-55-2-329.
• Receiving •
Mac — Johnston 6-59, Ramos 5-38, Walker 3-50.
KW — Sachs 11-128.