Twenty minutes after McPherson College’s 10-7 cliffhanger over Southwestern College here Saturday, several Bulldog seniors were still on the field despite the frigid conditions.
They were milling about with broad smiles on their faces, not wanting to let it go. They knew they were about to walk off the field for the last time and a couple were even kissing the McPherson Stadium carpet as a final goodbye.
And they walked off a winner.
No team in the KCAC had been so decimated by injuries. It used four quarterbacks, was down to basically one healthy running back and had been stripped of half of its receiving corps.
Despite all the adversity, the defensive-led final victory pulled the Bulldogs within one game of .500 in the KCAC at 4-5, three of those losses by a touchdown or less. Overall, the Bulldogs obviously were much better than their 4-7 ledger shows. They played nationally ranked MidAmerica Nazarene within six points in one of their non-con games and were tied with Bacone 7-7 going into the fourth quarter of the other before losing.
For first-year coach Steve Fox, Saturday’s gritty performance personified his team. Its only touchdown came with 16 seconds left in the first half on a 4-yard flip from Cody Groff to Michael Ramos, which rallied Mac from a 7-3 deficit. The Bulldogs had led 3-0 early on Christian Guerra-Barbosa’s eighth field goal of the year, while the Builders’ score had been set up by an interception.
Fox then turned to his prideful defense to protect the lead, which it did with ferocity. Southwestern’s only chance to score in the remainder of the game resulted in Trent Forrester blocking a chip-shot field goal attempt.
“We’re so dinged up on offense that we had to play real conservative and use our strength, which was defense and we used it,” Fox said. “You wanted them (the seniors) go out on a winning note.”
The Mac defense, which once again proved it was one of the best in the KCAC, held Southwestern to a measly 153 yards in 65 plays, less than 3 yards a play. Mac rode 110 yards rushing by freshman Miles Balthazor and 88 more by redshirt freshman Grof to finish with 275 total, 196 on the ground.
Forrester and fellow senior Evan Clary led the defensive charge with eight tackles apiece, along with rising freshman star Dalton Whitfield. Mac came up with three picks, including Trea Lott’s INT on the final play of the game. Kavoderic McIntyre and David Anderson also came up with picks, with Anderson’s coming on the last play of the first half and he returned it 74 yards before finally being hauled down. He also came up with a key fumble recovery, which should put him line for possible KCAC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Fox will now turn his attention to recruiting. The Bulldogs lose six seniors off their outstanding defense and also some key offensive performers. He said it will be imperative to build up the team’s thin ranks, as Mac was down to 45 healthy bodies by the end of the year after starting with nearly 80 players.
• STATISTICS •
• Mac Listed First •
First Downs — 18, 14. Rushes-Yards — 49-196; 41-80. Passing — 12-22-2-79; 5-22-3-73. Punts-Avg. — 8-23.8; 6-35.5. Fumbles-Lost — 1-0; 1-1. Penalties-Yards — 7-62; 5-62.
• INVIDIDUAL LEADERS •
• Rushing •
Mac — Balthazor 27-110, Groff 18-88.
Southwestern — Fenelon 7-29, Sims 16-27.
• Passing •
Mac — Groff 12-22-2-79.
Southwestern — Crandall 4-11-0-70; Langston 1-11-3-3.
• Receiving •
Mac — Ramos 6-36, Fagan 4-23, Jones 1-12, Chase 1-8.
Southwestern — Kistler 5-73.