2016 season ends on upswing

ANDERSON, IND. – An irascible smile crept across the face of Nate Jensen and members of the 2016 Manchester University Spartans, as the Bronze Ball entered Stauffer-Wolfe Arena Saturday, Nov. 13.

There were plenty of reasons for the joyful mood as public address Ray Hedstrom broke into the women’s basketball alumni game to tell the crowd that the Spartans had closed out the year with a 33-14 win over their Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference rivals. Among them was freshman quarterback Alex Downard (Indianapolis, Ind.), resuming an uptick just like his teammates to wind up the season, throwing for two touchdowns and 291 yards to wrap up two weekends in which he fired for better than 500 yards against Hanover College and the Ravens; senior running back Brenner Cruce (North Judson, Ind.) carrying the ball 21 times for 72 yards and hauling in a pair of receptions for 34 yards for a 100-yard-plus total offense contest; senior tight end Brandon Webb (Fort Wayne, Ind.) tallying a single-game career-high 100 yards due to six catches, two of which reached the Macholtz Stadium visiting end zone; senior special teams standout Andrew Coe (Roanoke, Ind.) hitting a pair of pivotal field goals and turning in a strong punting average of better than 47 yards which included two inside AU’s 20-yard-line; and upperclassmen linebackers Jack Kay, a junior from Williamsport, Ind., and senior Nathan Birk of Indianapolis, Ind., combining for 20 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack against the home team offense.

All of that added up to the coveted trophy staying in the trophy case on the upper floor of the Physical Education and Recreation Center for the eighth time in nine seasons. It also marked a strong uptick that the Black and Gold embarked upon in the final three weeks with two wins in which they averaged nearly 50 points per contest.

“The roll we’ve been on lately is due to the guys really coming together,” Jensen reflected. “A good example of that is what we saw from our seniors this past week … what we heard from those situations was family … brotherhood … being together no matter what the circumstances.”

“When you have that kind of message, despite what the record is and how previous games have wound up, you can see your team being on the same page and still wanting to do something special,” he added. “Today, that came out on the field. It was really moving to see things click like they did. (Anderson) rallied back in the first half, but our defense dug in the second half, and the offense took advantage of their opportunities.”

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