The McKendree University football team dropped a 34-24 decision Saturday night in a tightly contested game at the University of Indianapolis.
For the second consecutive year, an interception return for a touchdown by the Greyhounds in the final two minutes sealed the Bearcats’ fate. McKendree moves to 3-3 on the year and 1-2 in Great Lakes Valley Conference play. McKendree, which wrapped a up a two-game road trip with Saturday’s contest, will return to the friendly confines of Leemon Field on Saturday (Oct. 15) to host Saint Joseph’s College for Homecoming. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
McKendree overcame a 10-point deficit in the first half and nearly overcame a second one in the fourth quarter at Indianapolis. Junior linebacker Austin Weltha helped fuel the first-half comeback by blocking a punt, picking up the loose ball and returning it 29 yards for a score to knot the game at 17-17 with just over four minutes remaining before halftime.
“I thought we showed a lot of positive things on the field tonight,” said McKendree head football coach Mike Babcock. “We had some big plays, but also made some crucial mistakes. I give Indianapolis a lot of credit because they fought all game and came at us. But we battled too, and I told our guys that after the game.”
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Freshman quarterback Brandon Wildman threw for 265 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a career-long 77-yard strike to senior wide receiver Sean Dowling in the first quarter. For the second straight week, junior running back Shayeen Edwards (Cahokia) rushed for 100 yards to pace the Bearcats’ ground attack.
Indianapolis (2-4, 1-2 GLVC) grabbed an early 7-0 lead when Jake Purichia’s pass was tipped by a Greyhounds’ receiver into the hands of Garrett Willis, who raced past the McKendree defenders for a 77-yard touchdown. ON the ensuring drive, Wildman lofted a pass deep downfield to Dowling, who settled behind the Indianapolis secondary on his way to the end zone for his own 77-yard TD reception. Senior kicker Steven O’Block added the point after to tie things at 7-7. The 77-yard pass from Wildman to Dowling is the Bearcats’ longest play from scrimmage to date in 2016.
Later in the first quarter, Indianapolis regained a 10-7 advantage on a field goal by Brad Schickel and made it 17-7 early in the second period on a short scoring run. The McKendree comeback began midway through the second when O’Block matched a career-long with a 46-yard field goal to get the Bearcats within 17-10.
After the Greyhounds’ next drive stalled, Weltha broke through the line on a punt attempt by Schickel and blocked it, corralled the loose ball and rambled 29 yards for the score. O’Block tacked on the point after to bring the Bearcats even at 17-17 with 4:06 remaining until the intermission.
The only score of the third quarter came on a 24-yard field goal by Schickel to give UIndy the lead for good at 20-17. The Greyhounds tacked on a score early in the fourth quarter to regain a 10-point lead at 27-17. Wildman then drove McKendree down the field after the ensuing kickoff and capped an 11-play, 70-yard drive with a five-yard scoring strike to sophomore tight end Skylar Paulson. O’Block drilled the point after to trim the Bearcats’ deficit to 27-24 with just over eight minutes on the clock.
Indianapolis looked to extend its lead to six points in the final two minutes, but Schickel pushed a field goal wide right, giving the ball back to McKendree at its own 20-yard line with 1:52 to play. Faced with a third-and-six at the Bearcats’ 24-yard line, Wildman threw a pass to the far sideline, where Korey Rogan stepped in front of the ball and ran 28 yards for the score that sealed the win for the Greyhounds with 1:38 to play.
In last season’s meeting at Leemon Field — also a 34-24 Indianapolis victory — McKendree trailed 27-24 when Isaac Fisher threw an interception that was returned 26 yards by Jamie Placht with 1:22 left to ice the win for the Greyhounds.
Senior linebacker A.J. Wentland led the McKendree defense at Indianapolis with 12 tackles. In addition to his blocked punt and return for touchdown, Weltha finished the night with eight stops for the Bearcats. Junior defensive back Nate Powell chipped in with six tackles, two pass break-ups and the lone takeaway of the evening for McKendree, a second-quarter interception.