Non-conference thriller goes down to final moments

Non-conference thriller goes down to final moments

ALMA, MICH. – Recent editions of a Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference – Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association series between Manchester University and Alma College have provided fans in attendance with their money's worth and more.

The latest, occurring Saturday, Sept. 8, at AC's Bahlke Field, didn't disappoint, either.

Head coach Nate Jensen's Spartans battled the host Scots tooth and nail over 40 minutes in front of a crowd of better than 1700 with the final outcome not being decided until the final stages of the fourth quarter. When the dust settled, Alma had edged the Black and Gold 39-33 due to a 61-yard touchdown drive behind the arm of junior quarterback Mason Ippel and the legs of junior running back Austin Spartling that allowed them to score with less than 30 seconds remaining.

MU, despite dipping to 0-2, had highlights aplenty, especially on the offensive side. Junior running back Donovan Henderson, Jr., (Hollywood, Fla.) got around, over and through the home team defense to the tune of 31 carries for a personal single-game career-best 187 yards and three touchdowns as part of his fifth 100-yard-plus contest and the most ground gaining for a Black and Gold back since the 2015 season. The aerial performance of freshman signal caller Bryce Tomasi (Mishawaka, Ind.) was just as impressive. He hit on 21 of 36 attempts for 256 yards and two touchdowns with classmate wide receiver Harrington Greer (South Bend, Ind.) being his favorite target with eight catches for 80 yards and both scores to his credit.

The Spartans, finding themselves in a 14-0 first-quarter deficit after Alma marched 80 yards in nine plays midway through the stanza and then collected a 76-yard interception return for another paydirt hit, methodically worked themselves back into the contest. A fumble recovery by senior defensive back Lucas Lorian (Reelsville, Ind.), who continued to shine for the defensive unit for a second straight game, set up MU on AC's 14 in the middle stages of the second period, and the visitors marched in for a touchdown to cut the lead to 14-7. Both sides rattled off 60-plus-yard scoring drives immediately afterward, and the Scots added three more points right before the break to make it 24-14 at halftime.

Manchester University's defense strengthened in the third period and the early fourth quarter, picking up an interception by senior defensive back Dillon Nelson (Fairland, Ind.) and forcing back-to-back punts. The offense obliged, as Henderson, Jr., rambled 59 of 76 yards after the second half kickoff with the final 34 putting him in the home team's end zone, and the Spartans surging 57 yards late in the third period and early stages of the final frame for their first lead when Tomasi connected with Greer for five-yard touchdown. Fourth quarter fireworks didn't end there, though, as AC used a long return on the ensuing kickoff and clicked off a 53-yard scoring drive to take the lead back, and MU took advantage of the Scots' kickoff going out-of-bounds and drove 65 yards for six and a 33-31 lead with just three and a half minutes left.

The Black and Gold bring the curtain up on their 2018 home and Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference seasons Saturday, Sept. 15. Defiance College of Ohio makes the short eastern trek to North Manchester and Burt Field for a 6 p.m. kickoff and Community Night festivities.