ARKADELPHIA, Ark. — The McKendree University football team dropped a 75-14 decision Saturday evening at the hands of host Henderson State University.
Facing the No. 9-ranked team in the latest NCAA Division II poll, McKendree trailed just 27-14 after sophomore wide receiver Cameron James returned the second-half kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.
However, Henderson State responded by reeling off 48 unanswered points to pull away for the victory.
McKendree, now 1-1 on the season, will open Great Lakes Valley Conference play Saturday when it travels to Liberty, Mo., to face William Jewell College. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
Henderson State, which piled up 855 yards of total offense in its 82-10 season-opening win a week ago against Southern Nazarene University, collected 675 yards against the Bearcats. The Reddies were bolstered by the performance of junior quarterback Kevin Rodgers, who was 31-of-45 through the air for 380 yards with five touchdown passes.
"They are a very good team," said McKendree head coach Mike Babcock. "We capitalized and put up an early score against them tonight, but they answered that time, and right after we scored on the second-half kickoff. They showed why they are one of the top teams in NCAA Division II."
On the first offensive play of the contest, freshman defensive lineman Lucky Baar sacked Rodgers, forced a fumble and recovered the loose ball at the Reddies' 13-yard line. McKendree needed just three plays and 58 seconds to post the first score of the night when junior running back Ryan Herring scored from five yards out. Freshman kicker Steven O'Block tacked on the extra point to give the Bearcats a 7-0 lead.
Henderson State (2-0) answered with touchdown drives on their next two possessions to grab a 13-7 lead just five minutes into the game. The Reddies extended the margin to 27-7 with a pair of scoring drives in the final six minutes of the opening half.
James took the second-half kickoff at the Henderson State three-yard line, broke two tackles at the 25-yard line and raced up the right sideline for his 97-yard TD return. It marked the second consecutive week that McKendree posted a kickoff return for a score on the second-half kickoff. Senior defensive back Ryan Keen had a 100-yard return during the Bearcats' 32-28 victory last week at home against Tiffin University.
Following the James touchdown, Rodgers threw his third and fourth TD passes of the night on the next two Henderson State drives to stretch the margin to 41-14. Rodgers' fifth and final touchdown of the night came in the opening moments of the fourth quarter to give the Reddies a 48-14 advantage. That turned out to be the first score in a 34-point outburst from Henderson State in the final period of play.
Sophomore quarterback Isaac Fisher completed 16-of-30 pass attempts for 91 yards for McKendree. Junior wide receiver Dewayne Gatti had a team-high five receptions for 33 yards, while James and senior wide receiver Nick Jones each added three catches for the Bearcats.
Defensively, sophomore linebacker Alec Gerdes and senior linebacker Javar Murphy each posted a game-high 11 tackles for McKendree. Senior defensive back Tirell Anderson and sophomore defensive back Jackson Carver each chipped in with 10 stops on the night. McKendree forced three Henderson State turnovers, all of which came in the first half.