Both McPherson College and Bethany College look at this football season in “what could have been” terms.
Mac and Bethany enter Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. county rivalry game at McPherson Stadium a few missed opportunities away from postseason consideration, which sounds strange since both are 3-4 in the KCAC.
But in retrospect, both probably believe they could be right there challenging co-leaders Friends and Ottawa, who meet this Saturday on the latter’s home field to more than likely determine the conference championship.
The KCAC basically has been “The Big 4” this season (Friends, Ottawa, Tabor and Sterling) and then the rest, just as predicted here before the season.
Mac, however, has knocked off Tabor, taken Ottawa into double-overtime and last week blew an 18-point lead to Sterling, losing with 17 seconds to go. Even in a 45-17 loss to Friends, the Bulldogs were down by just a touchdown as late as 6 minutes to go in the third quarter before some turnovers led to an outbreak of Falcon points and a deceiving final margin.
Bethany, on the other hand, is the only KCAC team to defeat Ottawa, but lost in the last seconds to Sterling and basically handed a victory to Friends as it blew a 17-point lead by giving up 20 fourth-quarter points. Tabor was the only “Big 4” team to manhandle the Swedes, rolling up a 35-0 halftime lead last week before Bethany tightened up to lose, 35-14.
What this boils down to is that Saturday’s game pits teams that haven’t learned how to win.
Before each Mac game I cover, I talk with somebody from the opposing team as to their thoughts about the other teams in the KCAC, whether it be a head coach, assistant or fellow journalist.
The consensus I’m told about Bethany is that it has championship talent. The Swedes have an array of thunderbolts in their skill positions as second-year coach Manny Matsakis is all about speedburners to make his “Triple Shoot” offense explode. The defense has improved markedly and can be dominant at times.
But most of those I talk with are in unison as to the Swedes’ major flaw — penalties and sometimes a lack of discipline at inopportune times, the signs of a young team. The Swedes have had some games with outrageous penalty yardage as they have 89 in nine games for 870 yards. Mac, on the other hand, has only 56 for 501 yards. That could be a determining factor on Saturday as well as turnovers. Mac is coming off a game in which it turned it over six times and has one more on the year than the Swedes.
This county “rivalry game” — which really doesn’t ever have the feel of a rivalry game since Bethany’s chief antagonist is Kansas Wesleyan — is lopsidedly in favor of the Swedes (59-18-3), but a bulk of that advantage was attained with the legendary Ted Kessinger at the helm. His Swede teams at one point won 20 straight games against the Bulldogs.
Since his retirement after the 2001 season, however, the Bulldogs are 8-4, including last year’s 37-7 slamming in Lindsborg.
Both teams have visions of finishing KCAC play with a 5-4 record. Mac plays host to last-place Southwestern next week and Bethany is home against Bethel, which is next to last. It’s a lot easier to sell to recruits that your team was in the upper half of the conference rather than being in the second division.
Given the fact McPherson College is on its fourth starting quarterback of the season and Bethany is on its third, look for the defenses to dominate. Game-time temperature is supposed to be in the mid-to-high 50s, but a lot of wind is expected. So which team runs the ball more effectively and turns it over less figures to come away with the victory.
I’m a big believer — and this may come from covering Kessinger’s teams for more than 20 years — that on a very windy day, you take the wind if you win the toss. Kessinger’s belief was that you could pin a team early, force a punt and have less than half the field to score. Jumping on a team early was a Swede trademark, one reason they won 16 KCAC titles in his 28 years.