Cinderella Finds Shoe – Macalester Scots Crowned Conference Champions
Sit backs kids. It’s time for a little story. Once upon a time there was a college in Minnesota that was well known for its rigorous academic standards, but not really so much for its ability to play football. In fact, all throughout the land others mocked the program, making it the laughingstock throughout the country.
Then, a handsome coach was hired to lead the program. For a couple of years it struggled, then it went through some years of being pretty good, but not really being a consistent winner. Then one season the team put it all together. The handsome coach had brought together a bunch of really great coaches to help him and he brought in amazing players from all over the country to come and play for his team. That season, the team won eight games in a row and they became one of the most talked about teams in all the land.
That may be an odd story for a fairytale, but the reality is that the Macalester Scots are no fairytale. They are a team that is turning a dream into one of the most formidable football teams in all of Division-III, and with Saturday’s victory over Illinois College they can now call themselves Midwest Conference Champions.
This is a season of firsts for the Scots. They won a conference championship for the first time in 67-years. They have an eight-game win streak, the longest in school history. They won nine-games this year, the most in the 121-year history of the school. Now they enter the Division-III playoffs with a chance to continue to write history for the program.
That history began with a huge 30-27 victory over the Blueboys that capped off an improbable first year in the Midwest Conference. The team was expected to be fourth in their own division entering the season, however, they won the division and took out highly-favored Illinois College to bring home the title.
The game started out perfectly for the home team. The Scots got the ball first, but a fumble by Macalester gave the ball to the Blueboys at the Scots’ 35. Five plays later IC quarterback QB Michael Bates passed to Brendan Finley for the 23-yard touchdown, and the Blueboys were up 6-0.
Macalester was forced to punt on their next possession, and Bates went right back to work. The Blueboys QB ran twice for 12 yards and completed all three of his pass attempts for 27 yards. He was able to move the ball down to the Macalester two, setting up a first and goal. Two plays later RB Dyllan Bailey scored, and after a successful two-point conversion it was 14-0.
The worst nightmare for the Scots was looking like it was coming true. IC has an incredibly potent offense, and it was looking like the vaunted Macalester Scots Braveheart defense had no response for them In addition, the Scots offense had the ball twice and had mustered up just eight plays for -7 yards.
However, if anyone thought this team was going to curl up and surrender they don’t know the resiliency of the Macalester Scots. The Scots understand that the key part of being a Braveheart is to have heart, and the team went to work proving that right away.
The Scots began their next possession at the own 25. The offense really needed someone to step up and QB Samson Bialostok was the first to raise his hand. On the second play of the drive he was stopped for a six yard loss, setting up third and 12, and it looked like the team was going to be punting again, however, Bialostok found senior receiver Ben Hillman for an 18-yard gain and a first down. Two plays later the QB hooked up with Hillman again, this time for 16-yards down to the IC 44-yard line. Next Bialostok found Victor Bordo for a 13-yard gain and another Scots first down. The QB was getting hot, and when he found Bordo again for a 31-yard strike, Macalester was on the scoreboard, trailing only 14-7.
Illinois College looked unfazed by the score. They took the kickoff and ran it out to their own 37. A 13-yard completion put the ball at midfield, but the defense stiffened some. Three plays brought up a fourth and 3, and the Blueboys decided to go for it. Bates thought he had a man open, but safety Jole Miller jumped the route, picking off the pass, and racing 52-yards before he was finally tackled a the IC 8-yard line.
The interception looked like it may go for naught, as the team was held to just four-yards on the first three plays, setting up a fourth and goal at the 4-yard line. Coach Tony Jennison rolled the dice and decided to go for it. The move paid off as Bialostok hit Bordo again, this time for the 4-yard touchdown pass and the game was tied.
Buoyed by the interception, the defense came out fired up. On second and 10 the Blueboys got a 9-yard gain out of Bailey to set up third and 1, but Bailey was stuffed for a one-yard loss by Glen Hartford and Nate Yordy to force a punt, which was downed at the Scots 16. It was first and 10, but they had a long way to go.
A big factor in the team’s run has been the long drive. The Scots had 14 drives of at least 10-plays in the last seven games, and it has become their signature. Not on this possession however. On this drive it was going to be the big-play that would move the team. On the first play Bialostok found Hillman for a 20-yard gain. Then they gave the ball to Zandy Stowell who broke a couple of tackles and raced 58-yards before finally being pulled down at the IC 5-yard line. Two plays later he scored from three-yards out, and Macalester had their first lead of the game. The kick was blocked, making the score 20-14, but clearly the momentum had shifted.
On the Scots next possession they were back on the move again, taking the ball to the Blueboys 21 in six-plays. That included a fourth and 4 pass to Hillman for 7-yards and a first down at the 21. It looked like it was just a matter of time before they would score again, but IC got a big play out of their defense, intercepting the QB’s pass, and returning it 59-yards to the Macalester 36.
Now it was Bates turn to guide his offense. He ran for 17-yards on a third and eight play to get a first down at the Macalester 17. Three plays later he found Logan Uyetake for a 17-yard touchdown. The extra-point was no good and the two teams went into the half tied at 20.
Coming out of the half the Blueboys looked like they were taking a page from the Scots playbook. They began their drive from their own 10-yard line and moved 63-yards in 16-plays, down to the Macalester 27. There they found themselves faced with a fourth and 15. The Blueboys decided to go for it, but Bates pass intended for Bryce Heaton was broken up by Jole Miller, and the ball was turned over on downs.
On their next possession IC was back at it again. They time they began at their 34, and moved 66-yards in 14-plays. Bates capped off the drive with a 12-yard pass to Finley for the score and the lead.
Illinois College’s long drives were leaving the Scots offense on the sideline for a longtime. Macalester’s offense had been held to 7-plays on their only drive of the third quarter before being forced to punt. On their first possession of the fourth quarter they had to punt after a three-n-out. The offense had lost some of its rhythm sitting on the sidelines so long, and it was beginning to show. They needed Bialostok to step up again, and like the leader he is, he delivered.
The Scots began their drive from their own 21-yard line. The QB’s first pass was complete for 6-yards. An incomplete pass set up a third and 4, and he turned to Tre Nowaczynski for an 8-yard gain and a first down. Two plays later Bialostok found a streaking Nowaczynski for a 70-yard touchdown pass that tied the game at 27.
IC looked like they were going to respond right away. Bailey’s rush for 25-yards on second and 2 put the ball at the Macalester 42. A four yard pass to Heaton created another first down, this time at the 29. One play later Bates kept the ball and ran seven yards, but he was hit hard by Miller, who forced a fumble and Yordy recovered for the turnover.
The team had new life, and with 7:53 left in the game it was time for them to turn to their patented game plan. The Scots began a 14-play drive that went 74-yards down the IC 4-yard line. Stowell had 6-carries on the drive for 31-yards, and Bialostok completed 3 of 4 passes, including a huge 32-yarder to Nowaczynski. On fourth and 1, Coach Jennison decided to play it safe with just 52 seconds left in the game. Michael Abramson nailed a 21-yarder and the Scots were on top again.
The Blueboys were not done though. They had less than a minute left, but still had an incredibly dynamic quarterback. Bates’ first two passes were complete, moving the ball to the Scots 38. After an incomplete pass, Bates went back to pass looking for the first down, but Phil Wettersten intercepted the Bates’ pass sealing the game, and making his team Midwest Conference champions.
It has been an interesting season for Abramson. His field goal in the first game of the season against Carleton was a game winner as time expired. He then hit the game winner in the conference title game to prove that he is, as his Coach described, “A guy with a lot of moxie.”
Stowell had another huge game, gaining 169 yards rushing on 28 carries and touchdown. Bialostok, too, starred in the game, completing 19 of 31 passes for 311 yards and three scores. The 311 yards passing was a season high as was the three touchdown passes. Hillman caught 12 passes for 155 yards, and Nowaczynski had 3-catches for 110 yards and a TD. Bordo had 48 yards receiving and two touchdown receptions.
On defense the Fleming brothers came up huge again. Ryan had nine tackles and Konnor had eight and an interception. Reid Callahan also had eight and a sack, and Jole Miller had seven tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.
The Macalester Scots now await the playoff seating to see who they will play next week. They are now 9-1, and are a team that no one will take lightly anymore. They are excited about the conference title, but are not satisfied. They will be out to grab the school’s first national title. Then they can live happily ever after.
By Robert Pannier