It was a scene oh too familiar the last two years.
McPherson College’s football team raced out to a quick 21-0 first-quarter lead over Ottawa on Saturday before a large McPherson Stadium homecoming crowd that was in full throat despite a 75-minute delay at the start due to lightning in the area.
But as has been their wont, the Bulldogs saw that lead eventually disappear. Mac had a 21-point lead last week against KCAC leader Kansas Wesleyan, only to lose in overtime, and last year lost six games by 10 points or less.
However, something was different on this day. After Ottawa tied the game at 30-all in the third quarter, the Bulldogs dominated the rest of the game for a 44-30 victory, marking the high point to date of the Paul Mierkiewicz era at Mac as the Braves have been perennial KCAC contenders under coach Kent Kessinger.
The Bulldogs are now 2-3 in the KCAC and in a four-way tie for fifth place and leveled their season record at 3-3. They also are 3-0 at home as they are defending their home turf.
“It’s nice to be 3-3. It was an up-and-down kind of game,” Mierkiewicz said. “We let them back in a couple of times. But our kids hung in and played really, really well. When we kind of get out of our own way, we’re able to put some points on the board and defensively when we play smart we do some pretty good things, too.”
The Bulldogs jumped on the Braves from the get-go. They scored three first-quarter touchdowns on an Ed Crouch 9-yard pass to Brandt Wolters (Crouch’s only attempt of the day as he mainly sat due to a bad shoulder), a 12-yard fumble return of a blocked punt by Rinaldo Gagiano (his second in as many home games) and a 5-yard run by Tyrone Campbell.
Ottawa pulled within 21-15 in the second quarter, but the Bulldogs went back up double digits when backup quarterback Jake Tiernan threw a 52-yard rainbow to speedy Desmond Anderson. The Bulldogs went for 2, but failed, but still led 27-15.
Just before the half, the Braves took advantage of a Mac fumble on its own 3, but the defense stiffened and Ottawa had receivers drop two passes in the end zone.
The Braves eventually tied the game at 30-all, the only Bulldog points during that time coming on a 25-yard Jack Reid field goal.
In the fourth quarter, however, Tiernan and Jackson Goodmiller hooked up twice, the first a 60-yarder where Goodmiller appeared to be down, but he actually rolled over a Brave defender and his knee never hit the ground. He then caught an 18-yarder from Tiernan with 6:03 to go that clinched it.
Goodmiller finished with six catches for 91 yards and two scores. The running of Campbell (26 carries for 126 yards) lent balance and Tiernan, in his first collegiate start, showed he can play at this level after being an 8-man player at Solomon. He was cucumber cool, hitting 14 of 19 for 222 yards and three scores.
“He was in command all day,” Mierkiewicz said. “He extended plays, stepped up in the pocket and he throws a really nice deep ball.”
The Mac defense was led by Charles Tisby, who would not be denied. He had 10 tackles, three sacks, four tackles for losses and recovered a fumble, a probable KCAC Defensive Player of the Week performance. Isaac Murphy also had 10 tackles, while Isaiah Hill was a pass rushing menace as he was constantly in the backfield. Mac had seven sacks on the day and Alwin Crawford closed the game with an INT on the last play.
Ottawa, which also played without its starting quarterback Connor Byars, received 321 passing yards from backup James Valentine. But OU rushed for just 32 yards on 40 carries as it became one dimensional.
The Bulldogs now head off for a pair of road games, starting Saturday at Friends. The teams are tied for fifth in the KCAC, along with Saint Mary and Ottawa.