LEBANON — It was a record-setting season opener Saturday afternoon for the McKendree University football team.
Sophomore quarterback Isaac Fisher passed for a single-game record 375 yards and junior receiver Dewayne Gatti hauled in 10 passes for a 201 yards, both single-game records, as the Bearcats defeated Tiffin University 32-28.
It was the McKendree coaching debut of Mike Babcock, who watched his team overcome an 11-point deficit.
"I couldn't be more proud of our guys," Babcock said. "We tried to really, really focus on 60 minutes of football. It doesn't matter what the score is, whether it's in the first quarter, second quarter, fourth quarter.
"You put your head down, then at the end of the game, you look and hopefully good things have happened."
There were plenty of memorable moments for the Bearcats (1-0). Two of Gatti's catches were for touchdowns, senior Ryan Keen had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and McKendree's special-teams play overwhelmed the Dragons (0-1), of Tiffin, Ohio.
McKendree's winning touchdown came when Gatti, a native of Pasadena, Calif., caught a 59-yard pass from Fisher with 4:05 left.
"At the beginning of the game, we had really good drives, but we weren't capitalizing on them," Gatti said. "We kept making mistakes and having setbacks. We only had (nine) points in the first half.
"But we went into halftime and the coaches made great adjustments. My teammates got fired up, we made great blocks, the quarterback threw some good balls. Everyone came together in the second half and made plays."
The Bearcats trailed 14-3 in the second quarter and 28-20 in the fourth quarter. Gatti's 21-yard touchdown catch from Fisher made it 14-9 at halftime.
Keen opened the second half with his 100-yard return that put McKendree on top 17-14, but the Dragons went ahead 28-20 on junior wideout Tyler Jones' 38-yard touchdown strike to junior Marcus Beaurem with 18 seconds left in the third quarter.
Jones took a lateral pass from sophomore quarterback Joey Frendo before finding Beaurem open in the right side of the end zone.
The Bearcats, however, got within 28-26 on sophomore Branden Walker's 32-yard punt return for a touchdown.
McKendree got the ball with 5:11 to play in the game and on a first-and-10 play from its 41, Fisher hit Gatti in the flat and Gatti did the rest as he raced untouched to the end zone.
"We played our best, and that's all you can ask," Fisher said. "Things just came together. The offensive line did a great job blocking and things just opened up for the receivers. I just threw the ball."
Fisher's older brother, Austin, had the previous single-game passing record of 299 yards, set in 2011 against Malone. Isaac Fisher said he had no plans to gloat to big brother.
"I'll never brag about that," he said with a smile. "We're not like that. We'll talk to each other. He'll probably congratulate me and I'll just say, 'Hey, I had a good game.' He'll be proud of me."
Fisher said Gatti gives the Bearcats a dynamic threat on the outside.
"Gatti's definitely got some speed and hands," he said. "We've got other people we can go to, too, but Gatti's going to be big."
Junior Ryan Herring, a Belleville East graduate, led the Bearcats in rushing with 17 carries for 51 yards. McKendree rushed for 94 yards.
Frendo also had a huge game at quarterback for the Dragons, going 31-for-49 for 362 yards and two touchdowns. Tiffin rushed for a paltry 52 yards.
"We did not play mistake-free football. That's something that we'll address and get going for next week," said Babcock, whose team was penalized seven times for 65 yards. "But the best thing those guys did is they just kept on playing. They kept their spirits up.
"Now the focus is to beat Henderson State (next Saturday)."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.