DEFIANCE, OHIO – What a difference a minute can make.
Take Manchester University freshman placekicker Kody Graham as an example. With 1:08 remaining at Defiance College's Just F. Coressel Stadium, he saw an extra point attempt that would have tied a Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference battle between the Spartans and host Defiance College at 21-21 miss its target much to the delight of the Yellow Jackets' 2017 Homecoming crowd.
Fast forward after sophomore special teams teammate Reid Kammerdiener (Fairfield, Ind.) hit the perfect high-hopping onside kick that bounced off a Defiance player and into the waiting arms of senior defensive back Wayne Smith (Columbia City, Ind.) and the Black and Gold offense marched 48 yards, the Indianapolis, Ind., native found himself with a chance at redemption.
"I hadn't said anything (to Kody) after the missed extra point other than get the ball up," Coach Nate Jensen said. "When the onside kick worked and we drove down to get into range for the field goal, I talked with (senior tight end) Jared (Bourff of Elwood, Ind.) and (senior quarterback) Mark (Osmialowski II of Cloverdale, Ind.) and told them 'If you two are good with the snap and hold, we'll be good'. Everyone did their job, and Kody got the ball through the pipes."
Defiance tried to mount a final moments' drive of its own after Graham nailed the 24-yarder for a 23-21 MU lead. The Yellow Jackets used a completed pass and visiting team penalty to get to the Spartans' 40-yard line, but, as the clock rolled to zero, a receiver couldn't get out of bounds and the game ended with the ball at the Manchester University 22-yard line.
As his team jubilantly celebrated the 23-21 win that moved them to 2-3 overall and 1-2 in the conference, Jensen spoke about a gritty group coming together for a needed triumph.
"Hey, we lost a similar game a year ago at our place (to Defiance)," he noted. "We didn't play well the first half and dug ourselves a hole. I told the team, at halftime, play for the guy in front of you, to the left and right of you and behind you on the field. We need to do this as a team. They responded."
Beyond Graham and Kammerdiener's heroics, several other Spartans shone in western Ohio. Senior Dakota Nelson (Fairland, Ind.) took home his second kickoff return for six, dancing through the opposing defense, finding daylight and scooting 90 yards for MU's first score. Sophomore quarterback Alex Downard (Indianapolis, Ind.) proved valuable, going in on the other two Black and Gold touchdowns, as he found Bourff for a third time this season in the end zone, this time from four yards out, and he ran the other in from seven yards out. Defensively, Smith's onside kickoff recovery didn't complete his resume, as he tallied a unit best seven tackles. The Spartans were also active in sacks and tackles for losses, totaling four sacks and seven tackles for losses while also recording a takeaway with senior linebacker Mitch Oskam (St. John, Ind.) grabbing an interception.
Manchester University begins two in a row at home Saturday, Oct. 14. They welcome Rose-Hulman to Carl W. Burt Memorial Field for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff to highlight Homecoming 2017 festivities.