LEBANON — The McKendree University football team used a big-play attack and a stifling defense to register a 34-13 victory Saturday against visiting Central State University.
The Bearcats turned in 11 plays of 10 or more yards, which included a trio of scoring plays of at least 33 yards to collect its second straight home victory. Defensively, McKendree forced five turnovers by Central State, four of those coming on interceptions.
With the win, McKendree improves to 3-6 overall and 3-4 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
The Bearcats will close out their 2012 season Saturday by hosting Saint Joseph's College in another GLVC affair. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. at Leemon Field. Following the game McKendree will honor its 17 senior players appearing in the final contest as a member of the Bearcat program.
In addition, the Saturday's contest will mark the final game in the career of McKendree head coach Carl Poelker. Last week, Poelker announced he would retire following a 31-year run as a collegiate head coach, including the last 17 at McKendree. Poelker is the Bearcats' all-time leader in wins as he picked up victory No. 117 on the McKendree sidelines.
Freshman quarterback Isaac Fisher completed just six passes against Central State, but he threw for 162 yards on the day. Fisher hooked up with sophomore running back Ryan Herring on touchdown tosses of 50 and 57 yards in the second half. Freshman running back Cameron James rushed for a career-high 93 yards, which included a 33-yard scoring run in the second quarter.
Junior safety Jamison Wilson led the defensive charge with nine tackles and a pair of interceptions. Wilson also broke up three passes by the Marauders. Junior cornerback Ryan Keen and junior defensive back David Thomas had the other interceptions by the Bearcats in the victory. Freshman running back Steven Fritsch added a fumble recovery for McKendree, which came on a muffed punt by Central State.
McKendree took the opening kickoff and marched 59 yards in eight plays to grab a 7-0 lead. Junior fullback Stephen Wallace capped the drive with a one-yard scoring run, and senior kicker Matt Kendall added the point after. Central State (3-6, 3-4 GLVC) answered with a scoring drive of its own on the ensuing possession as Michael Wilson connected with Zachary Thomas on a 15-yard TD pass with 3:29 left in the first quarter. The extra point tied the contest at 7-7.
Following a Central State punt early in the second quarter, McKendree needed just three plays to grab the lead for good. A short run by James was followed by a 19-yard burst by Wallace down to the Marauders' 33-yard line. James then found a seam of the left side and raced 33 yards for a score, and Kendall's extra point pushed the Bearcats out to a 14-7 lead.
On the Bearcats' first drive of the second half, Fisher and Herring connected on their first long TD play of the day. Facing a second down at midfield, Fisher found Herring behind the Marauders' secondary for a 50-yard TD strike, extending the McKendree lead to 21-7. Central State pulled within 21-13 in the early stages of the fourth quarter before the Bearcats pulled away. The combination of Fisher-to-Herring struck again, this time on a 57-yard scoring pass to extend the margin to 28-13 midway through the fourth quarter.
After McKendree stopped Central State on a fourth-down play at the Marauders' 34-yard line, the Bearcats needed just three plays to seal the victory. Fisher hooked up with Wallace on a 31-yard screen pass down to the three-yard line. Two plays later, Fisher snuck into the end zone on a one-yard quarterback keeper with 4:32 remaining.
The five turnovers forced by the Bearcats' defense is a season high, topping the four takeaways against Henderson State University on Sept. 8.