When McPherson College’s football team started the season 0-3, the third loss being an abysmal, ego-damaging 13-0 effort against supposed KCAC tailender Bethel, I honestly thought the Bulldogs could be headed for an 0-11 season.
The Bulldogs’ injury list was getting longer by the minute. They used three different starting quarterbacks in the first three games. Their best running back was hurt, the team’s depth was drying up and you had to wonder if first-year coach Steve Fox had what it took to hold the locker room together as most teams would start to rip apart and point fingers.
You have to remember all three of those games to start the season were on the road, two of them being exhausting, long trips.
Once home, the Bulldogs scored the first win of the Fox era over Kansas Wesleyan. That was followed by a double-overtime road loss to KCAC-leading Ottawa, a game the Bulldogs just needed a defensive stop to win the game. So things were on the uptick,
When the Bulldogs returned home to absorb a fierce pounding from KCAC co-leader Friends — losing another quarterback in the process — I thought that was the end. Mac was 1-5 and I had a sense morale was going into the toilet. That loss took its toll both physically and mentally.
But Fox never wavered. He carries himself with a quiet confidence, not a guy who is outwardly expressive. He believed he still had some good football players available who would play hard and give a max effort.
Fox lost his No. 3 quarterback Cody Groff to an injury in the Friends game. He then made a bold move, taking starting wide receiver Kelly Cordova and moving him to quarterback.
Fox’s reasoning was that Cordova had some past quarterback experience, but most of all he came from a winning program. He plays with a lot of confidence despite his tender years and commands respect in the huddle, almost unheard of for a freshman.
The result was an efficient 24-9 Homecoming Weekend victory over Saint Mary. Again, I thought that probably was an aberration, given that nationally ranked Tabor was up next, on the road no less.
But in one of the more uplifting Bulldog moments since I’ve covered this team for 36 years, they rallied for two fourth-quarter touchdowns to stun the Bluejays, 15-14.
After all the injuries and the available players dwindling, the Bulldogs find themselves tied for fourth place in the KCAC with Tabor and Bethany. They hold a tiebreaker over Tabor and still have Bethany yet to play next week.
The Bulldogs are a team nobody wants to play right now. They are riding some momentum and have one of the best defensive front sevens in the conference. Their line and linebackers were amazing against Tabor, as the No. 2 rushing team in the country was held more than 200 yards under its average. While there are still some struggles against the pass, the Bulldogs did snatch three interceptions, two by emerging star Ashton Serpas.
Mac has the opportunity this week to move into a third-place tie when it goes to Sterling, its sixth road game in nine weeks. A couple of weeks ago I would have said this was an automatic loss, but you know the Bulldogs will show up and play. From what I see, Fox is a players’ coach, one you want to put it all on the line for. The Bulldogs also know if they can win out, they can salvage a winning season. Who would have thought that after Week 3?