ANGOLA, IND. – A 23-point deficit against in-state NCAA Division III rival Trine University was anything but that Thursday, Aug. 31.
Glancing quickly at the final statistics after the smoke settled at Fred Zollner Athletic Field in a 35-12 Thunder victory, one could see a nip-and-tuck battle playing out. The home side holding a slim 17-15 first down edge; the visiting Manchester University Spartans out-passing their hosts by a 180-133 count; and the Black and Gold holding an edge in time of possession (30:40-29:20) among many noticeable figures.
Enough to leave head coach Nate Jensen lamenting what could have been.
“We’ve talked all off-season about finishing drives and games … we didn’t do that (tonight),” he said. “I know I’m frustrated. There were so many chances left on the field.
We didn’t play up to our potential – giving up too many big plays including a punt return for a touchdown for the first time since I can remember and not tackling as examples,” he added. “Now, it’s time to focus on working to better those things and getting ready for Alma.”
The Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Thunder got their home crowd to its feet the first time they touched ball. After holding the Spartans near midfield, Marcus Winters gathered a punt, broke through the front line quickly and danced down the field 85 yards for a score. MU’s offense, as it did throughout the picture-postcard evening, methodically worked its way down the turf on its next drive but was stopped on downs at the Trine 26. The home side, taking advantage of some key pass plays, marched seven plays in 74 yards for a second touchdown and a quick 14-0 lead.
Manchester University ebbed away at the deficit in the second half with a pair of scores. A nifty halfback pass from senior wide receiver Dakota Nelson (Fairland, Ind.) to classmate Bailey Partington (Lapel, Ind.) went for 37 yards and a touchdown, while Partington figured into a late first half drive for six, gathering in a catch from the arm of sophomore quarterback Alex Downard (Indianapolis, Ind.) that went from TU’s 43 to the three-yard line. The next play saw Nelson’s athletic abilities showcased as he leaped in the far corner and pulled down a spectacular catch for the touchdown to cut the lead to 21-12.
The second 30 minutes saw the home team defense halt the Black and Gold, surrendering just one drive of five-or-more plays. Meanwhile, Trine added two more touchdowns to enable the 35-12 final.
Partington and Downard topped the statistics for Jensen’s offense. Downard finished 13 of 25 for 143 yards with Partington hauling in four of them for 93 yards. Sophomore Donovan Henderson, Jr. (Hollywood Hill,s Fla.) was the rushing attack workhorse with 16 carries for 38 yards including several attempts that saw him just a shoelace grab away from more. Defensively, senior linebacker Jack Kay (Williamsport, Ind.) picked up where he left off a year ago with nine tackles, joining sophomore defensive back De’Lon Barnes (Los Angeles, Calif.) and junior defensive lineman Jacob Cooper (Fairland, Ind.) with similar numbers. Junior defensive back Austin Coughlin (Fairland, Ind.) added his name to the annals with an interception.
Manchester University resumes back-to-back road trips and MIAA clashes to begin the season Saturday, Sept. 9. Kickoff at Alma College’s Bahlke Field is 6 p.m.
NOTES: Downard’s night marked his second 100-yard-plus passing effort and moved him just 58 yards shy of 1,000 for his career … Partington’s totals were a single-game career high for the senior.