McPherson College’s Bulldogs are in the same position as they were a year ago.
The Bulldogs entered the final two weeks of the 2013 football season with a 3-6 record, but finished with a rush with rousing back-to-back 37-7 road wins over Bethany College and Southwestern.
First-year Mac coach Steve Fox would gladly take a repeat of that scenario.
The Bulldogs play those same teams again to close out the season, but this time both will be at McPherson Stadium.
They have played at home only three times, as it seems as though they have spent the entire season on the road.
So Fox is hoping the team will benefit from the home energy when it hosts Bethany at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Both teams are still alive for an upper-division KCAC finish. They are tied for fifth place with 3-4 records (along with Saint Mary) and both close next week with the bottom two teams in the conference, Mac with 1-6 Southwestern and Bethany with 2-5 Bethel.
“Looking at it, if we can finish the same way as last year with all the obstacles we have faced, we’d feel real happy about it,” said Fox, whose team is 3-6 overall.
Bethany, guided by second-year coach Manny Matsakis, is the most enigmatic team in the KCAC as it’s 4-5 overall. Talking to other coaches around the conference, the consensus is the Swedes have as many gifted players as the top teams, but in most of their losses they have beaten themselves. They are the only KCAC team to have beaten co-leader Ottawa, and literally gave away games to Sterling and co-leader Friends. Last week the Swedes basically didn’t show up in the first half against Tabor, going down 35-0, but dominated the second half to reduce the final score to 35-14.
Mac, meanwhile, is coming off a stunning 31-28 loss to Sterling, a game it seemingly had under control as it was up 28-10 before its lack of depth helped fuel a Warrior comeback, not to mention six Bulldog turnovers.
Fox, however, said he hasn’t seen a hangover from that game as his team has come to play every game this year.
“That’s something we have preached all season since I took over,” Fox said. “We’re going to play hard and we’re not going to give up. They’ve come to practice this week excited. I expect us to be ready to play.”
Fox knows the Swedes provide a lot of challenges. They’re like a track team in shoulder pads as it’s all about speed. However, quicksilver quarterback Virgil Bridges went down last week with an ankle injury and Bo Savage, who began his career at Mac, took over. Savage doesn’t have the speed of Bridges, but a much-better arm. The Swedes’ offense is predicated on the fly sweep and they trot out a legion of speedy, hard-to-catch receivers who they bring across the field for handoffs.
But Mac has been terrific against the run. It stuffed Tabor more than 200 yards under its average and last week limited Sterling’s probable KCAC first-team running back Antonio Bray to 44 yards on 26 carries, less than 2 yards per carry. Bethany’s best plan of attack may be Savage through the air and he has one of the top receivers in the KCAC in Rodney Molette.
What Fox said has impressed him most about Bethany is its improvement on the defensive side.
“They are much improved,” Fox said. “They’ve done a great job of recruiting on that side of the ball. We’ll have our work cut out for us to move the ball.”
Mac basically did all its damage last week on the ground as freshman Miles Balthazor pounded out 238 yards on 24 carries. Kelly Cordova also did a nice job of running the zone-option. The only drawback was the Bulldogs’ six turnovers, three on picks and three fumbles.
The KCAC title figures to be decided this week when co-leaders Friends and Ottawa meet for conference supremacy in Ottawa.
• KCAC STANDINGS •
Friends, 6-1 (7-2)
Ottawa, 6-1, (7-2)
Sterling, 5-2 (5-4)
Tabor, 4-3 (6-3)
Bethany, 3-4 (4-5)
McPherson College, 3-4 (3-6)
Saint Mary, 3-4 (3-6)
Bethel, 2-5 (3-6)
Kansas Wesleyan, 2-5 (2-7)
Southwestern, 1-6 (1-8)