It became evident early that one mistake was going to decide the even-steven intracounty defensive slugfest between McPherson College and Bethany College on Saturday at McPherson Stadium.
That mistake came late in the third quarter by the Bulldogs.
A blown coverage allowed Bethany’s wide-open Rodney Molette to catch a 76-yard touchdown pass from one-time Bulldog Bo Savage, which was the difference in a 14-7 Swede victory.
Bethany now has a chance to finish with a winning record in both the KCAC and for the season. The Swedes are 4-4 in the conference and 5-5 overall. They host two-win Bethel on Saturday.
For the Bulldogs, who are running out of healthy bodies as starting quarterback Kelly Cordova and top running back Miles Balthazor became the latest casualties, they are 3-5 in the KCAC and 3-7 overall with last-place Southwestern coming to town on Saturday. Mac has now lost three conference games by a touchdown or less.
It was a difficult game for offensive purists to stomach, as turnovers and penalties were the order of the day. Bethany put together one scoring drive in the first half, resulting in Jaasan Eley’s 15-yard TD run, while the Bulldogs’ lone score was set up by Ryan Duggan’s recovery of a Savage fumble, leading to Dalton Whitfield’s one-yard TD to tie the game at 7 going into halftime.
The freshman Whitfield highlighted the Bulldogs’ alarming injury situation and desperate lack of depth. He rushed 14 times for 58 yards and came up with four tackles from his linebacker spot, two of them for losses.
“You can’t say enough about kids like that,” Mac coach Steve Fox said. “You want to go out and find more like that in recruiting.”
Fox was terribly disappointed after the game as another super-stout effort from his defense was wasted because injuries have stripped down the offense to the bare bones.
“We’ve got to figure something out on offense,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job on that side of the ball executing.”
Without Cordova (who had 88 yards rushing before departing with a knee injury) and Balthazor (who rushed for 238 yards last week), Fox had to turn back to Cody Groff, who showed the rust of a long layoff due to a broken finger. Bethany’s quick defense made it tough for Mac, which totaled just 259 yards, two less than the Swedes. The Mac passing game has virtually dried up with three straight games under 100 yards.
Eley finished with 52 yards rushing for the Swedes, who had only 87 yards rushing on 44 attempts, just under 2 yards a carry. Savage threw for 174, 109 of those on two plays.
“That’s as good a defense as we’ve seen,” Bethany coach Manny Matsakis said. “Steve does a great job over there.”
The MVP of the game for the Swedes was probably punter Brett Crome, whose well-placed boots hampered the Bulldogs with wretched field position throughout the second half.
• STATISTICS •
• Mac Listed First •
First Downs — 16, 13. Rushes-Yards — 41-180; 44-87. Passing — 9-22-2-79; 7-17-2-174. Fumbles-Lost — 4-1; 1-1. Punts-Avg. — 7-30.0; 7-38.1. Penalties-Yards — 7-65; 8-90.
• INDIVIDUAL LEADERS •
• Rushing •
Mac — Cordova 11-88, Whitfield 14-58, Balthazor 7-25.
Bethany — Eley 18-52, Evans 7-35.
• Passing •
Mac — Cordova 8-17-2-74, Groff 1-5-0-5.
Bethany — Savage 7-16-2-174, Allen 0-1-0-0.
• Receiving •
Mac — Ramos 6-47.
Bethany — Molette 4-113.