The clock struck midnight on the Macalester Scots football team in Jacksonville, IL last Saturday, but their carriage did not turn into a pumpkin, they did not find themselves in rags, their horses were not mice again and slipper was still on their foot. The Scots are now Midwest Conference (MWC) champions and heading to the NCAA Division-III playoffs for the first time in school history. Now their story moves from a fairytale season to an epic Bible battle.
Macalester finds themselves playing No.1 ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater in a classic David vs. Goliath scenario. The Warhawks are the defending national champions, their fifth in the last seven years and they have established themselves as arguably the greatest dynasty in Division-III football history. “Whitewater is going to be a 40-60 point favorites in this game, with good reason,” Coach Tony Jennison explains. “They are tough everywhere, and it is going to take an unbelievable effort for us to beat them.”
Unbelievable has been what the Scots football team has done all year. They have quickly established themselves as the “feel good” story of the season, riding an 8-game win streak and now MWC champs. As Coach Jennison puts it, this season has been “magic.”
The magic continued last weekend against heavily favored Illinois College in the conference title game. Macalester fumbled on the opening possession of the game and the Blueboys scored right away. The Scots offense would be stopped on their next drive and IC responded with another touchdown to make it 14-0. In previous seasons, this game may have already been over by that point, but not this year. This is a new age at Macalester.
QB Samson Bialostok led the team on 75-yard drive, and hit WR Victor Bordo for 31-yards and the score to make it 14-7. The senior once again demonstrated what incredible poise he has and how he can will his team to score.
Buoyed by the touchdown, the defense stepped up. On a fourth and 3 play at the Macalester 43, safety Jole Miller intercepted a tipped pass and ran 52-yards before being tackled at the Illinois College 8-yard line. Four plays later Bialostok hit Bordo again and the game was tied.
The two teams exchanged touchdowns before half, and went to the locker room tied at 20. “I was a little worried about our team at the half,” Coach Jennison recollects. “It was real quiet. I know they will say they were just focused, but I think there comes a time as a coach when you know your team has lost a little of their energy, and you need something to happen to get them fired up again.”
Coach Jennison could not have been more right in his assessment. The Blueboys came out of the half and had two huge drives that dominated virtually all of the third quarter and into the fourth. While IC was dominating on the field, they were not on the scoreboard. 30 total plays between the two drives yielded just 7 points. The defense had done their job, but they needed the offense to give them a break and Bialostok was ready to do so.
The Scots began at their own 21-yard line, and were looking like they were going to run one of their patented 10-plus play drives, but six-plays into the drive Bialostok headed toward the sideline and looked like he was close to stepping out, but stayed in-bounds long enough to fire a bomb down the sideline that the Blueboys defensive backs completely misplayed. They knocked each other out of the play, and left a wide open Tre Nowaczynski standing alone. He turned and ran the last 10-yards for the 70-yard score to tie the game.
The Blueboys were on the move again on their net drive, but Miller forced a fumble that was recovered by the Scots. 14-plays later Michael Abramson nailed a 21-yard field goal to make the team conference champions. “Michael just has a lot of moxie,” Coach Jennison says of his kicker. “He begins the season by winning the game against Carleton with a last second field goal, and then has the winning kick to make us conference champs. He is just a huge leader for our team, which is odd for a kicker.”
What is even weirder is to say “Macalester Scots, Midwest Conference Champions,” but that is the reality. The Scots are an outright conference champion for the first time since 1927.
With the fairytale season reaching its climax with a conference title in their back pocket, the Scots now have the unenviable task of facing the No. 1 team in the country. Coach Jennison’s response to facing the champs. “To be honest when I heard we were facing them I laughed. If you are going to be in the playoffs why not face the No. 1 team? Why not see what you can do? No one has thought we were going to be any good all year except us, and so we can just go out there and have fun, because there is no pressure on us at all.”
The Macalester head coach is right. This is a “David and Goliath” game of epic proportions. This is Hoosiers. This is The 300. This is a battle of an all-time great vs. a never heard of. This is the fun of college football.
Macalester will enter the game as heavy underdogs, as they have been all season in virtually every game they played. No one thought they would beat Carroll University. No one was putting money on them beating St. Norbert for the North Division title. Clearly not a sole thought they were going to Illinois College and winning. No one but themselves.
This is a team of destiny that completely believes in themselves and with good reason. They have heart, they play physical, and there is no smarter team in the country. These young men have what it takes to pull off what may be the greatest upset in Division-III football history.
The odds will be stacked against them however. The odds may be so great that it would take a Macalester student to be able to figure them out. This Warhawks have a dominant defensive line, they run the ball well and they have an outstanding quarterback. They are a beast in every sense of the word. They are Goliath.
Saturday at noon the Macalester Scots will take to the field looking to be a team of destiny. They have been coached well by Coach Jennison, and you can be sure the offensive coordinator Marc Davies and defensive coordinator Marshall Mullenbach have added some wrinkles to throw off the Warhawks. The two coaches are brilliant at that, and Wisconsin-Whitewater will be putting their genius to the test.
“Why not Whitewater?” was Coach Jennison’s response to facing the No. 1 team. Roughly 3000 years ago a young man stepped forward and asked the king of Israel the same thing. “Why not me?” That young man conquered the greatest giant in all the land and changed the course of history for his people. Saturday the Macalester Scots will do battle with their own giant, and with these brilliant coaches and passionate young men there is no doubt that they will enter that contest with a whole lot of rocks in their pouch. So get ready Warhawks; the slingshot is ready to fire.
By Robert Pannier