Inspired by a fallen teammate, the McKendree University Bearcats staged a second half rally for the ages on Thursday at Leemon Field.
Entering the game when starting quarterback Brendan Fred suffered a leg injury midway in the third quarter, junior Elcee Burke threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to DeQuan Dudley later in the period to give McKendree the lead for good as they went on for an emotional 33-19 win over Angelo State (Tx.) University.
Making its first visit to McKendree, Angelo State (0-1) built a 19-9 lead at halftime by outscoring McKendree 12-0 in the second period to take a 10-point lead at intermission.
Junior defensive back Nate Powell, who intercepted a pass in the first half, gave a large McKendree crowd reason to hope when he stepped in front of a Rams receiver and returned the intercepted pass 50 yards for a touchdown early in the second half to make the score 19-16.
Fred, who completed 7 of 16 for 81 yards, while adding 76 yards rushing, then went down with an apparent ankle injury later in the period. But playing inspired football, the Bearcats dominated from that point on as they won for the 14th time in their last 16 games.
“This game had just about everything you could imagine. Interceptions for touchdowns by both teams, a safety, turnovers. I don’t know how many times their punter pinned us inside the 10-yard line. I finally asked the referee if he was sure on a couple of them because I had never seen anything like it before,’’ McKendree coach Mike Babcock said. “We were able to make some plays and this football team rallied around Brendan (Fred).
Babcock did not the extent of Fred’s injury after the game. The DuQuoin native was carted off the field and taken for further medical attention in an anbulance.
Burke, a Chicago native, ran for 10 yards on his third play from scrimmage. The play did not go for a first down, but like the interception return by Powell, gave the Bearcats and their fans hope.
“They (Angelo State) played a great second quarter and really had us on our heals at halftime and so when Nate (Powell) had the interception return for a touchdown it gave us a jolt. It was the same thing when Elcee had that 10 yard run,’’ Babcock said. “It was not t a first down but it gave us a little boost of energy.’’
Burke then gave the Bearcats an even bigger boost minutes later. On a second down play, Burke floated a pass over the Rams defense to an open Dudley who scored on a 16-yard pass touchdown connection,
“I just tried to do my job and the team, we just tried to rally around the injury to Brendan (Fred),’’ Burke said. “The touchdown play worked because DeQuan (Dudley) had a linebacker on him. All I needed to go was put the ball where it was supposed to go.’’
Following the fifth of six Angelo State turnovers, senior placekixker Steven O’Block booted his second field goal of the night — a 40-yard kick — with six seconds left in the third quarter to increase the lead to 26-19.
The Bearcats defense did the rest.
Powell, who had seven tackles to go along with his two interceptions, was one of three Bearcats to finish with seven stops on the night. Linebacker Kyle Kirkpatrick also added seven tackles as did Blake Benoist. it was Benoist who sealed the deal with an interception late in the fourth quarter.
Burke, who finished with 136 yards of total offense in just over 1 1/2 quarters, iced the game with a 31-yard scoring run with 1:48 left in the game.
All-American middle linebacker AJ Wentland also had a big night. The Machesney Park (Harlem) graduate finished with a game high 13 tackles, including nine solos.
On offense, former Cahokia standout Shayeen Edwards gained 100 yards on 34 carries for McKendree. Edwards scored the Bearcats first touchdown of the year — an 18-yard run in the first quarter.