McPherson College’s starting offense Saturday night in its Homecoming Weekend game against Saint Mary included its fourth different starting quarterback of the season, a running back who had not taken a snap all season and a receiver who had not made a catch all season.
The defense, meanwhile, was without its potential All-American starting linebacker.
That’s not a formula for success.
Well, somebody had better check the formula.
The beaten-and-battered Bulldogs, with a walking-wounded list longer than their arm, came together as a family as coach Steve Fox preaches so much about and gutted out a 24-9 victory as the Homecoming crowd was enthralled by their grit.
“It’s one day at a time with these kids,” said Fox, whose team is now 2-3 in the KCAC and 2-5 on the year as it basically knocked the Spires out of the conference chase. “We’ve been preaching family and playing with passion. We came out a bit flat and it took us a while to get our motors running, but we got ‘em going and good things happened.”
Converted freshman wide receiver Kelly Cordova, pressed into quarterback duty because of injuries to former starters Cody Groff and JT Levenseller, responded like a senior. He rushed for 115 yards on 14 carries and scored a touchdown, while throwing for 124 yards and two scores. More importantly, he seemed to make the right decisions at the right time.
“He’s a competitor,” Fox said of Cordova, who could be seen on the sideline encouraging his teammates throughout the game and keeping a positive attitude. “He’s just a tremendous athlete and he’s a winner. He comes from a successful program down in Texas. This 1-5 mark was really eating on him. He wants to do something about it.”
One of those TD grabs was by Justin Fagan, who had not caught a pass all year, but had four grabs for 75 yards.
Freshman Dalton Whitfield, playing both ways for Mac because of injuries to the top two backs, added 43 yards on the ground on 19 carries as he was an iron man, which epitomized the Bulldogs’ mantra on this night.
Then, of course, there was the defense. Mac, playing without tackling machine Trent Forrester because of a pinched nerve, limited the Spires to just a touchdown and field goal despite giving up 331 yards on 71 snaps as Saint Mary ruled the time of possession Jimmy Wilson and Ryan Duggan played possessed with 11 tackles apiece, and received help from Ashton Serpas, Ben Kimbrough and David Anderson with eight each. Kimbrough also forced and recovered a fumble.
“We just had to make some adjustments and wake up a little bit,” Fox said, adding that he really liked the passion and intensity it played with in the second half.
Mac led 3-0 after a quarter on a Christian Guerra-Barbosa field goal before Saint Mary knotted things in the second period. The Bulldogs took the second-half kickoff and marched 73 yards, with Cordova finding Andrew Johnston from 7 yards after the two had hooked up for 36 two plays before as Johnston made an amazing catch.
The Spires answered with a score, but Serpas blocked the extra point to leave it at 10-9.
But the Bulldogs had a strong finishing kick. Cordova and Fagan hooked up for a 25-yard TD strike when Cordova threw clear back across the field after a lengthy scramble. Serpas later came up with a pick that the Bulldogs cashed in on a 15-yard run by Cordova.
“I was pretty sure we were the underdog (going into the game),” Fox said. “I knew and we knew we were the better team. We knew we had to execute and play with some fire. I’m glad our alumni got to see what we’re actually about.”
Mac now has to gear up for another physical game when it goes to Tabor on Saturday.
• STATISTICS •
• Mac Listed First •
First Downs — 19, 24. Rushes-Yards — 43-205; 28-58. Passing — 8-14-0-124; 25-43-2-273. Punts-Avg. — 3-40.3; 0-0. Fumbles-Lost — 2-1; 1-1. Penalties-Yards — 10-110; 9-81.
• INDIVIDUAL LEADERS •
• Rushing •
Mac — Cordova 14-115, Whitfield 19-43, Walker 1-24, Stone 7-20, Balthazor 2-3.
USM — Ryan 18-67.
• Passing •
Mac — Cordova 8-14-0-124.
USM — Ervin 25-43-2-238.
• Receiving •
Mac — Fagan 4-75, Johnston 2-43, Ramos 1-7, Whitfield 1-(-1).
USM — Gomes-Coelho 9-114, Owens 7-108.