NORTH MANCHESTER, IND. – Many moments have defined the gridiron series between Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference foes.
Add one more.
On a day where 17 Spartans played their final collegiate contest, the "never-say-die" attitude of Coach Nate Jensen's crew showed itself when it was needed. With the outcome still in doubt in front of better than 2,000 nervous fans at Carl W. Burt Memorial Field, the Black and Gold dug down for a sustained drive down their home natural grass, whittling nearly eight minutes off the fourth quarter clock. They did so converting a pair of fourth and 1 attempts and a third down and 15 play to traverse 62 yards in 16 plays. Sophomore running back Donovan Henderson, Jr. (Hollywood, Fla.), winding up a sparkling afternoon, escaping a scrimmage line tackle attempt and jaunted nine yards for a touchdown, giving MU a 22-9 lead with less than five minutes to go.
Before the signature march, it was a back and forth afternoon folks attending the Senior Day 2017 game witnessed. After stopping their hosts on an initial drive, the Ravens moved the ball seamlessly over 58 yards to open the scoring with a field goal. The Spartans answered right back clearing the remainder of the first period clock off the scoreboard with a 10-play, 60-yard drive that ended with senior wide receiver Dakota Nelson (Fairland, Ind.) going over the left side from four yards out for his 33rd career touchdown.
While the second period started quiet, it did not end that way. After a punt by freshman Keegan Schimmelman (Atlanta, Ga.) went out at the Ravens' one-yard line, Manchester University's defense responded dropping an AU back in the end zone to up their lead to 9-3. The ensuing free kick and strong return by Nelson set up the Black and Gold at AU's 39 and, six plays later, Nelson etched another school record on his resume, with his 34th career scoring play, finding senior tight end Jared Bourff (Elwood, Ind.) on a 10-yard pay dirt strike for a 15-3 lead.
Anderson (1-9 overall, 1-7 HCAC) rallied on their final possession of the third quarter, going 48 yards for a score to make it 15-9 after a missed extra point. The Ravens got the ball right back after a muffed kickoff return but junior cornerback Austin Coughlin (Fairland, Ind.) snagged a nifty tipped ball drill out of the air in the end zone to stop the threat. The interception was just part of the home team's defensive story. Senior linebacker Mitchell Oskam (St. John, Ind.) and fellow Class of 2018 teammate Cody Shelton (South Bend, Ind.) added one and two picks, respectively, while Oskam, sophomore linebacker Justin Thomas (Lowell, Ind.), senior defensive back Wayne Smith (Columbia City, Ind.) and junior defensive lineman Jacob Cooper (Fairland, Ind.) combined for three sacks, and senior linebacker Jack Kay (Williamsport, Ind.) led the way with eight tackles.
Offensively, Nelson accounted for 170 all-purpose yards to go along with the two scores he figured in on. Henderson produced his fourth 100-yard-plus effort on the ground with 31 carries for 128 yards and the decisive fourth quarter touchdown.