MU, AU battle for Bronze Ball

The clash for the coveted Bronze Ball trophy concludes the 2017 season for Manchester University and visiting Anderson University Saturday, Nov. 11.

Game details: Kickoff is 1:30 p.m. at Carl W. Burt Memorial Field … Live audio, statistics and video can be accessed via a link at, the Internet home of Manchester University athletics … Six student athletic trainers, three cheerleaders and a group of 18 individuals from within the Spartans’ football program are honored before kickoff as part of Senior Day 2017 festivities … Coach Nate Jensen’s Spartans have won three in a row to climb above .500 overall (5-4) and in league (4-3) action to situate themselves fourth in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference standings. The Ravens, under the direction of Coach John Sala, sport a 1-8 overall and 1-6 conference record … Despite a 45-25-1 all-time edge for the Orange and Black, the Black and Gold have gotten used to the Bronze Ball residing at MU having won eight of the last nine against their loop rivals. A year ago, Manchester University claimed a 33-14 win over Anderson at their Macholtz Stadium … “I remember when the Bronze Ball idea first started, this game meant so much to win because it showed the progression (of our program),” Coach Nate Jensen said. “We’ve dominated (the series) a little recently, but a big part of this game still goes back to that stepping stone of where we want to go next. There’s a chance to get a first winning season since 2012 and just the eighth one all-time which will in turn help in recruiting while also giving the returners something to build on to for 2018 and beyond. (A win) Saturday just allows us a lot of momentum (into the offseason).”

Spartan Shorts: Every second of the 60-minute battle at Hanover College’s Alumni Stadium factored into MU’s 35-34 road win Nov. 4. Jensen’s team turned to a “never say die” mentality they’ve used in moving up the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference standings in recent weeks, riding the arm of sophomore quarterback Alex Downard (Indianapolis, Ind.) and the fleet feet of senior wide receiver Dakota Nelson (Fairland, Ind.) to overturn an early 14-point deficit, Despite their sophomore signal-caller firing three touchdown passes for a second straight contest and going over 200 yards for the fifth time in his collegiate career, it took a final minute score and then two big pass defenses for the Black and Gold keep their win streak intact. After Downard dove in from a yard out with less than two minutes to go, the Hanover offense, which was just as impressive with almost 500 yards, answered with a five-play, 91-yard march ending with an aerial paydirt strike for a 34-29 lead with 45 seconds left. However, a two-point pass went awry to keep the score there. “I didn’t say too much (to the team) when we got ready for the kickoff,” Jensen said. “We’d worked on a two-minute drill before, and the guys knew what had to be done.” Setting up 63 yards from the lead, Downard and Nelson did just that, as the standout receiver got into the clear and raced his way down the FieldTurf for a 35-34 advantage with 27 seconds left. After a two-point run ended short, Hanover got one more attempt with the football from their 43-yard-line after big kickoff return negated a long Spartans’ kickoff. HC quarterback Chase Lightfoot, who already had five touchdowns and almost 400 yards through the air, aimed two long throws deep into visiting territory but neither found the mark, sending the Manchester University sideline into celebration. “Our coaching staff couldn’t be more proud (of what we’ve accomplished),” Jensen said. “That win showed the toughness of our kids and how gritty this team can be. It would have been easy to be negative, but there was not anyone that did not think we could do it. Winning games like that, after losing some close ones last year, is all about the hard work this staff and the players put in day in and day out. Our program’s maturing with the leadership of upperclassmen and the work ethic we put in, too.” … Nelson goes into the season finale just two receiving touchdowns shy of breaking Brandon Tugmon’s career record (22) and two shy of breaking Brandon Wells’ overall touchdown mark (33) … Looking at the league statistics with one week to go, sophomore running back Donovan Henderson, Jr. (Hollywood, Fla.), is still among the top five in rushing yards per game (80.1 – No. 5) and touchdowns (10 – No. 1). Downard’s within the top 10 in passing yards per game (174.2 – No. 6) and touchdowns (17 – No. 7); senior linebacker Jack Kay‘s (Williamsport, Ind.) 7.6 tackles per game are tied for seventh; junior defensive lineman Jacob Cooper‘s (Fairland, Ind.) five sacks are tied for ninth; and Nelson’s seven scoring receptions are tied for sixth, while his 67.1 yards per game are tied for eighth … Henderson, Jr., and Nelson also find themselves part of the NCAA Division III top 50 statistically. The sophomore running back is 46th in rushing scores, while the senior wide receiver and special teams’ standout leads the country is combined kick return yardage (922) and is one of five players with two kickoff return scores. He’s also sixth in all-purpose yards per game (192.33).

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