The Sterling College Warriors clinched the KCAC football championship and a national playoff berth on Saturday at McPherson Stadium.
But did the McPherson College Bulldogs sure make them work for it on Senior Day.
The Bulldogs had the Warriors in an all-out sweat after Jake Tiernan’s fifth touchdown pass of the game rallied Mac within 36-34 with 13 minutes to go, but the Warriors — as many teams have recently — took advantage of a tired, depleted Bulldog defense to score twice in the fourth quarter for a 50-34 victory in Mac’s season finale.
Sterling, which last won the KCAC title in 2013, will find out its playoff destination later today. The Warriors and Tabor tied for the conference championship with 8-1 records, but Sterling won the head-to-head meeting 23-21 for the tiebreaker.
“I thought we did some nice things, but we had a couple of turnovers in some tough areas that kind of shut down some drives for us,” said McPherson coach Paul Mierkiewicz, as his team finished the year 3-7, 2-7 in the KCAC. “You’ve got to understand, that’s a really good football team over there. But our kids battled like I knew they would.”
Both offenses were spectacular. Sterling snapped it 75 times for 573 yards, but Mac went toe-to-toe as it had 508 yards on 62 plays against the KCAC’s No. 2-rated defense.
Tiernan at one time was 21 of 23 and finished 27 of 36 for 360 yards and five scores. Eman McNeil had 8 catches for 106 yards and two scores, Brandt Wolters had 5 catches for 103 yards and a TD, Jackson Goodmiller was 6 for 65 and a score and Desmond Anderson was 4 for 41. The other TD was caught by Cullen Grabast. All of those players mentioned are underclassmen as Mac potentially returns a wealth of players next year if they decide they are willing to make the commitment to the program.
Aaron Chisholm had 208 yards on 21 carries for Sterling and reached the end zone four times. Darryl Terrell had 11 catches for 117 yards and a score, while quarterback Eric Butler was 25 of 39 for 324 yards and two scores, while also running for one.
Mac trailed 14-0 after a quarter, but scored 21 points in the second period to draw even by the half as Tiernan amazingly was 15 of 16 for 211 yards and three scores.
The game turned when Sterling scored two touchdowns in the third quarter in the first 7 minutes, but Mac never went away. A 31-yard strike from Tiernan to McNeal drew the Bulldogs within 36-34 early in the fourth quarter. But the Bulldogs were so worn out on defense they simply ran out of gas.
Now Mierkiewicz and his staff must start to build some depth and especially boost the defense, which was on fumes by the end of the year due to injuries. The team has made improvement each year and now a winning season is in sight.
“This is a tough league,” he said. “We were kind of restarting the football program (when he took over, as there were less than 20 players who returned when he arrived). I think we’ve made some major strides. We’ve got to get some things done in recruiting to make us better.”