WICHITA— The McPherson College football team needed a two-point conversion to pull off an upset against 14th-ranked Langston University in Jeremiah Fiscus' head coaching debut. Despite shutting out the Lions in the last three quarters and overcoming a 21-point deficit, the Bulldogs had to settle for a 21-20 loss on Saturday at the first annual Heartland Classic in Cessna Stadium.
"I think what that represents is the by in of this program, of the staff, the by in of the kids and the by in of the whole institution," Fiscus said. "What we are trying to accomplish with these young men is teaching them that part of the human spirit, doing things right, competing and you know, things of that nature."
In the beginning, the Bulldogs weren't able to get the offense going, but they did hang around as it remained scoreless 13 minutes in. That would eventually come to an end as the Lions scored three straight touchdowns in less than three minutes. It began with a 33-yard run by Lions' freshman quarterback Jordan Cooper. Running back Tim Whitfield followed it up with the Lions' second rushing touchdown after the Bulldogs fumbled on a kickoff return, which set up a red zone play for Langston. The third touchdown was a pick-six by defensive linemen Christopher Hogi after tipping Ed Crouch's pass that resulted to a 12-yard run. The offensive miscues and mental mistakes were costly, and by the end of the first quarter, it looked like Langston was going to get a blow-out win early than what expected.
"I think they just had to settle down," Fiscus said. "We were calling the same plays with the same kids. I think they just had to settle into there own selves and be a little more confident."
The defense kept the Bulldogs alive as the Lions went on a touchdown hiatus for the rest of the game. Opportunities flared when the Bulldogs collected three turnovers, including two interceptions by Rinaldo Gagiano and Brett Sykes, and a fumble recovery by Jeremiah Hawkins. Langston was also 0 of 8 on third-down attempts. Patrick Calip was the leading tackler with nine.
"Our defense played as good as you can ask them to do," Fiscus said. "There's always going to be a few things here and there, those kids went out and played their tails off."
The Bulldogs started to turn things around in the second half. It began with a 70-yard burst by Quashad Washington that finally put the Bulldogs on the board. Mid-way through the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs scored again with a three-yard run by LeMishio Hill. All of a sudden, the Bulldogs were only down by one touchdown with momentum completely shifted in McPherson's favor. After another strong effort by the defense, McPherson had one shot of tying the ballgame. The Bulldogs handled their time management well as it came down to a two-minute drill. McPherson native Ben Nikkel caught some critical catches, including an eight-yard touchdown pass as the clock expired and leading McPherson with seven catches for 105 yards.
The Bulldogs made a bold move by going for two instead of settling for PAT that would force overtime. Crouch was under pressure as he looked for Nikkel in the endzone, but the pass was deflected, ending the game.It was no question McPherson wanted to go for it all. There were no regrets from anyone in the sidelines.
"They wanted to win it right there, and you know what, the last play of the game didn't go our way, but it's never the last play. It's always 10 or 12 plays in there," Fiscus said.
Some may consider it a moral victory for McPherson, but not Fiscus. It was a message that McPherson has reached new heights. The Bulldogs will use the remaining momentum they had on Saturday's loss and move forward to their KCAC opener next weekend.
"When you see those kids look back at you at the end of this game, a couple of them had teary eyes. They were inspired because they figured out we can play at the national level," Fiscus said. "They are going to be upset, but they are inspired, and they believe in each other. I think we took a big step as a program today and then believing in the program. I couldn't be happier to coach this team."
The Bulldogs will host Sterling College on Saturday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. at McPherson Stadium
Contact Peter Holland Jr. by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Petes_Picks_