The McKendree University football team wrapped up its 2018 season Saturday afternoon with a 50-32 victory at Lincoln University.
Good things came in twos for the Bearcats as they closed out the year with an overall record of 6-5 with a 4-3 mark in Great Lakes Valley Conference play. Senior quarterback Reece Metcalf (Mount Carmel, Ill./Mount Carmel) threw for two touchdowns, while senior running back Preston Thompson (Hazel Crest, Ill./Tinley Park) added a pair of rushing scores in the second half. McKendree also registered two special teams touchdowns as sophomore kicker Josh Lazaro (Bradley, Ill./Bradley Bourbonnais) booted two field goals.
McKendree piled up 495 yards of total offense, including 287 through the air by Metcalf. Thompson led the Bearcats’ ground game with 97 yards while sophomore running back Jace Franklin (Sherman, Ill./Williamsville) added 84 yards on the day.
Another number that stood out for McKendree in its win at Lincoln was seven – the season-high number of sacks recorded by the Bearcats on Saturday. Junior linebacker Darnell Harris, Jr.(San Diego, Calif./Kearney), led the charge with four sacks, while junior defensive lineman Michael Smith (Smithton, Ill./Freeburg) added two more.
Junior wide receiver Matt Cole (Chicago, Ill./Curie) continued to excel in the return game for the Bearcats, taking back the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown and finishing the day with 162 all-purpose yards.
“Overall I thought all three phases played very well,” said McKendree head coach Mike Babcock. “I thought the key going in was going to be special teams play, and we talked about that last night. Matt had that return last week and we said that one time could be a fluke, but doing it a second time is making a statement, and he took just 15 seconds to do that today. It was a great job today and an all-around team victory.”
McKendree won the opening toss and elected to receive. Cole fielded the kickoff at the five-yard line and raced down the left side 95 yards for the score. Lazaro added the extra point to give the Bearcats a 7-0 advantage just 15 seconds into action. Moments later, following a Lincoln turnover, Lazaro booted a 24-yard field goal to stretch the margin to 10-0.
Lincoln (3-8, 2-5 GLVC) scored in the final minute of the first quarter to pull within 10-7 before McKendree reeled off 17 unanswered points in the second period. Sophomore tight end Steven Leadlove (Belleville, Ill./Belleville West) caught a screen pass from Metcalf and rambled 41 yards to paydirt early in the period for a 17-7 lead. Lazaro added a 34-yard field goal midway through the quarter when the Bearcats’ special teams unit registered its second score of the contest. Freshman wide receiver Steven Towns, Jr. (Normal, Ill./Normal), broke through the line on a Blue Tigers’ punt attempt and blocked the kick. Franklin picked up the loose ball at the seven-yard line and score to extend the McKendree lead to 27-7 with 4:53 remaining until halftime.
After leading 27-10 at the intermission, McKendree saw its lead dwindle to just three points midway through the third quarter thanks to a four-yard TD run by Kimbo Ferguson and a 49-yard interception return for a score by Edwin Durassaint. Thompson helped the Bearcats regain a 10-point lead with the first of his two touchdown runs of the day, a five-yard burst to put McKendree back in front at 34-24.
Metcalf then threw his second scoring pass of the day, a 46-yard strike to Towns, to help the Bearcats build a 41-24 cushion. It marked Metcalf’s final TD pass of the season, stretching his school record to 27. With his 287 yards passing at Lincoln, Metcalf finished his McKendree career with 5,176 yards, making him just the second Bearcat to throw for more than 5,000 yards.
Following a Lincoln score, McKendree padded its advantage thanks to a safety and Thompson’s second TD jaunt of the day, a six-yard effort with 3:49 remaining. Thompson closed the 2018 season with 1,073 rushing yards, which is the second-highest single-season total in program history. He also stretched his career rushing total to 1,779 yards, good for eighth on the Bearcats’ all-time chart.
Defensively, junior linebacker Ricco Gipson, Jr. (Godfrey, Ill./Alton), had seven tackles against Lincoln, giving him 104 on the year. He is the fourth player in program history with at least 100 tackles in one season. Junior linebacker Kennith Wilson (Chicago, Ill./Simeon) led the way for McKendree with 11 tackles, while Harris matched Gipson with seven stops.
**With its 50 points against Lincoln, McKendree set a single-season scoring record. The Bearcats had 393 points in 2018, surpassing the old mark of 388 set back in 2015.
**Saturday’s win mark the fifth time this season that McKendree scored at least 40 points in a game. It was also the first time since a 54-28 win at William Jewell College back on Sept. 23, 2017 that the Bearcats topped the 50-point mark.
**The Bearcats did not punt at Lincoln. It was the first time since Oct. 31, 2015 in a 65-0 over the Blue Tigers at Leemon Field that McKendree did not record a punt in a contest.
**The safety recorded by McKendree in the fourth quarter was the first for the Bearcats since Sept. 9, 2017 at home against Kentucky State University.
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