McPherson College and Bethany College both enter today’s game with different reasons to be excited.
The Swedes, who had been 0-6 in the KCAC up until last week, shocked the NAIA with a 24-17 win over then-No. 7 Tabor College, giving a beleaguered Bethany squad some much needed momentum heading into the McPherson County rivalry game this afternoon at 1:30 p.m. at Anderson Stadium.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are in the midst of a five-game skid after opening the season 3-1. Head coach Pete Sterbick and his team are hungry for a win to try and salvage the season with only one game left on the schedule after Bethany.
It has all the makings of an instant classic.
“I’m sure Bethany is going to be fired up,” Sterbick said. “Getting off to a good start [against the Swedes] is important, but we’re more focused on ourselves. If we can limit our mistakes, and line up and play disciplined, I like what we bring to the table.”
What the Bulldogs bring to the table is one of the top defenses in the KCAC, allowing only 379.6 yards per game, which has them ranked fourth in the conference.
The No. 3 team, however, is Bethany, with 328.3 yards allowed. The Swedes ware the No. 2 team in the KCAC in pass defense, giving up only 147.8 yards a game.
That could pose problems for Bulldog quarterback Jordan Hoffman, who has 1,940 yards on the year with a 66 percent pass completion rate and 13 touchdowns. He has, however, also tossed 11 interceptions. As a whole, the Bulldogs are averaging 222.9 yards passing a game.
The rushing defense of Bethany is nothing to sneeze at, either, as they have are giving up an average of 180.6 yards per game, leaving them ranked fourth in the conference.
The McPherson (3-6, 2-5 KCAC) offense did come alive against Sterling in a 56-37 loss. The Bulldogs had 454 total yards of offense, with 162 coming on the ground.
Hoffman had 292 yards passing off 25-of-32 passing with no interceptions and two touchdowns, both going to Tremon Robinson.
“We talked all week about having consistent execution offensively,” Sterbick said of the Sterling game, “and that’s what we were able to see bigger flashes of. That’s a quality defense, so it was nice to be able to put multiple scoring drives together. Now, we want to take that from one game to the next.”
The offense will be tested by the Swede defense, led by Steven Williams, who leads Bethany in tackles with 64, including three sacks and 10 1/2 for a loss.
On the other side of the ball, Bethany doesn’t exactly make it secret what it’s game plan will be; run the ball, run it some more, then run it again. That’s not to say the Swedes won’t go to the air, but the play calls are slanted 461-198 in favor of the running game.
Page 2 of 2 - “They have some really good players that we are going to have to contain to have any chance of stopping them,” Sterbick said. “We have got to play with some more discipline, we have to tackle better and we have to play with more passion. It has to be 11 guys playing together, every snap. We are a good defense when we do that, because then the talent that we have can come out.”
Tevis Linnebur is one of those players that Sterbick is concerned with containing. The senior has rushed 145 times this season, racking up 596 yards and five touchdowns.
Right behind him is early-season sensation Jafar Thomas, who has 470 yards on only 81 attempts and five TDs, as well.
Quarterback Zach Dovenbarger is a dual threat, as he as completed 42.7 percent of his passes for 1,019 yards and sven touchdowns, though he also has 12 interceptions on the year. On the ground, Dovenbarger has 286 yards and three touchdowns.
The win at Tabor was the first for the Swedes (2-7, 1-6) since the season opener at Southwestern Assemblies of God University back on Sept. 7. It was a welcome relief for a Swede team struggling to establish themselves in the inaugural year of head coach Manny Matsakis’ tenure.
The Bulldogs are looking for similar relief this afternoon, as they have been winless since Sept. 28 against Kansas Wesleyan. That stretch did include the top four teams in the KCAC in Ottawa, Friends, Tabor and Sterling, all of whom are ranked in the NAIA Top 25.
Even though they have struggled to get the notch in the win column, don’t expect McPherson to come out this afternoon without their composure, as they are ready to go to work.
“Anytime we don’t win, there is going to be frustration,” Sterbick said. “That’s part of being competitive. But, we have kept coming back to work every week. We know we have another opportunity coming up.”
Contact Chris Swick by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @SwickSentinel.