STERLING — There are losses and then there are rip-out-your-heart losses.
McPherson College’s 31-28 loss to Sterling College on Saturday definitely qualifies as the latter.
The Bulldogs either led or were tied for 59:43 of the game’s 60 minutes. Antonio Bray’s one-yard run with 17 seconds left in the game, plus his 2-pointer, gave the Warriors their only lead of the day.
The Bulldogs literally had tried to hand the game to the Warriors all day. They fumbled the ball away twice inside the Sterling 3-yard line in the first half and finished with six turnovers, but the biggest came with 3:41 left in the game when a muffed punt by Mac allowed the Warriors to continue on their game-winning drive. Had the ball just been allowed to bounce in the terribly windy conditions and be blown dead, Mac probably could have burned most of the remaining clock.
“It was far from mistake-free on both sides of the field today and we came up on the bad side of that,” said Mac coach Steve Fox, who was as disappointed with this loss as he was elated with last week’s win over nationally ranked Tabor. “Until we do all those little things and convert opportunities, we’re going to be in the middle of the pack.”
The Bulldogs at one point were up 28-10, but their depth-shy defense finally wore down after being brilliant in the first half. They basically had to go with the starters all the way due to injuries and attrition.
“We’re thin across the board,” Fox said. “I don’t want to sit here and make excuses, but it did bite us.”
The Bulldogs led 21-10 at the half. Kelly Cordova and Miles Balthazor scored rushing touchdowns and Trent Forrester, back in action after being out with an injury, blocked a punt, scooped it up and ran in from 59 yards for a score.
It was 28-10 early in the second half after Balthazor’s second TD run, but the Bulldogs would not score in the final 29:47. Sterling’s offense finally found its rhythm, scoring 14 third-quarter points and then Bray’s winner in the final period.
In the first half, Mac doubled Sterling in time of possession and had a 151-88 advantage in total offense. By the end of the game, the Warriors had cut that to 338-302 and nearly caught up in time of possession. The Warriors ran 42 plays in the second half, Mac just 19.
Balthazor certainly should be a candidate for KCAC Player of the Week even in a losing effort. The Valley Center freshman rushed for a staggering 238 yards on 24 carries, while Cordova added 62 on 15 tries. But the Mac passing game, because of the ground success and the fierce wind blowing, managed only 40 yards.
Mac held Bray, the reigning KCAC Player of the Week, to just 44 yards on 26 carries as the Bulldogs’ run defense continues to be an asset.
Mac could have moved into a third-place tie with Sterling, but now is tied for fourth with Bethany and Saint Mary at 3-4. The Bulldogs, 3-6 overall, host the county rival Bethany on Saturday.
• STATISTICS •
• Mac Listed First •
First Downs — 16, 16. Rushes-Yards — 40-298; 62-182. Passing — 4-11-3-40; 4-13-0-120. Punts-Avg. — 2-41.0; 7-29.6. Fumbles-Lost — 4-3; 3-2. Penalties-Yards — 5-25, 10-74.
• INDIVIDUAL LEADERS •
• Rushing •
Mac — Balthazor 24-238, Cordova 15-62.
Sterling — Langford 22-93, Bray 26-44, Hudspeth 11-26.
• Passing •
Mac — Cordova 4-11-3-40.
Sterling — Langford 5-13-0-120.
• Receiving •
Mac — Walker 2-25, Ramos 1-8, Fagan 1-7.
Sterling — Bray 2-58, Hudspeth 2-16.