NORTH MANCHESTER, IND. – Taking nearly 2000 fans on a white-knuckle rollercoaster ride over 60 minutes Saturday, Oct. 21, Manchester University and Bluffton University squared off in an old-fashioned donnybrook.
Two interceptions by senior cornerback Wayne Smith (Columbia City, Ind.), including one deep in MU territory, coupled with a defensive stand inside the 10-yard line as the clock wound down helped send the home crowd at Carl W. Burt Field home happy in the wake of a 28-21 Spartans' victory. A rugged one-two ground punch from sophomore running back Donovan Henderson, Jr. (Hollywood, Ind.) and freshman backfield teammate Cornelius Hawkins (Spring, Texas) produced 154 yards and three touchdowns, while Smith's ballhawking and a combined 20 tackles for senior linebacker Jack Kay (Williamsport, Ind.) and junior defensive lineman Jacob Cooper (Fairland, Ind.) topped the defensive output.
"It was a great team win," Coach Nate Jensen said. "There were so many players who stepped up and gave us an opportunity to achieve this. I'm proud of the way we stuck together and kept fighting."
The two Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference teams held leads during a beautiful late October afternoon at Carl W. Burt Memorial Stadium. MU came out of the gate like a Kentucky Derby winner, taking advantage of the first of Smith's two interceptions, for a short field 33-yard drive that Henderson, Jr., ended by churning through the BU defense for a 7-0 lead less than two minutes in. The Black and Gold's defense got the home crowd on its feet again later in the first quarter, as junior defensive back Dillon Nelson (Fairland, Ind.) picked off an errant Brandon Koch toss at the Spartans' 30-yard line and followed a line of blockers down the field for a pick six and a 14-0 lead.
"With the start we had, it was all about keeping our foot on the gas," Jensen said. "It was great to see our defense come out and get two big takeaways … it got the crowd into the game, and our offense responded just like we needed on the first interception."
The visiting Beavers responded with a long drive late in the first quarter for six and then took an interception of their own into the home end zone in the second quarter to tie things 14-14 at the break. "Give credit to Bluffton … they're well coached and battled us right back," Jensen said. "We did hit a lull … I just told the team at halftime 'Hey let's not panic … we're okay.'"
Manchester University needed the calming disposition of their head coach to help them weather what was a nip-and-tuck second half. The Spartans reclaimed the lead on their second possession of the third quarter with Henderson waltzing in from three yards out. However, a missed extra point gave the visitors some momentum, as they found pay dirt late in the third stanza for a 21-20 advantage. The lead went back to MU permanently when Hawkins closed out a textbook march of 11 plays over 80 yards by covering the final nine for his first home touchdown midway through the fourth period.
The Spartans (3-4 overall, 2-3 HCAC) begin two in a row on the road Saturday, Oct. 28, by visiting Earlham College. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m.