Macalester Scots Braveheart Defense Proves to Be Too Much for Knox College
For over a decade the Macalester Scots played as an independent team, but clearly they are liking being part of a conference now. For the second straight week the Scots took down a team from the Midwest Conference, this time the Knox College Prairie Fire, 34-0, and now boast a 3-1 record heading into next week’s game against Ripon College. This was a day that Macalester Coach Tony Jennison saw his team dominate in every facet of the game, and it was from the very start that they established their dominance.
From the opening kick-off the Prairie Fire were going to get a taste of exactly what was in store for them on this day. On the opening kick, Knox return man Arman Stricklin mishandled the ball, and Macalester standout senior Jole Miller jarred the ball loose and into the end zone. A mad scramble ensued, but Stricklin eventually recovered his own fumble in the end zone for a touchback.
While Knox College had escaped a bullet, the defense for the Scots was going to be no less difficult to navigate. Running back Adam Brooking rushed for one total yard on his first two carries, setting up a third and nine at the Knox 21. QB Matt McCaffrey completed a pass to Jordan Zanger in the flat and it looked like he had plenty of room to make the first down, but CB Konnor Fleming quickly tracked down the ball carrier and dropped him three yards short of the first down marker. The play by Fleming set a definite tone that if Knox was looking to get their offense moving, this Braveheart defense was going to make them work for every inch.
The Prairie Fire chose to punt on fourth and three. Drake Sykes received the snap but Bradley Cox burst through the line virtually untouched to block the punt and set the Scots up at the 17-yard line. Coach Jennison talked about after the game how big that punt block was early on. “We were a little nervous about their rugby punt from the right side, so we were loaded up trying to stop that, and that opened up a seam to the ball. To have that kind of start where you not only make a huge defensive stop to start the game, but also set your offense up deep in their end is about as good of a start as you could want.”
A good start turned into a great one thanks to junior running back Zandy Stowell. He carried the ball seven-yards on his first carry, and then burst off-tackle to his left on the second, A couple of defenders got a hand on him, but no arm tackle was bringing down the 5-9, 191 pound beast, who scampered into the end zone for the touchdown and a 7-0 Scots lead.
The second Knox College possession was also a three-n-out, bringing the punting unit back onto the field. This time the snap to Sykes was high, going over his head, and he was forced to fall on it at the Prairie Fire 14-yard line. From there the offense scored again quickly. A holding call on first down brought the ball back 10 yards and two plays later it was third and 15 at the 19-yard line. From there, senior QB Samson Bialostok dropped a perfect screen in the lap of Stowell who broke a couple of tackles on his way to the 19-yard score. Asked about his ability to break tackles and reach the end zone twice early in the game, the running back had no answers for the success of his early outburst. “I don’t know how that happened to be honest with you. I got great blocking down field, and just kept going until I was in for the score.” While Stowell wasn’t exactly sure how he had such a quick start to the game, it was clear that Knox had no answers either.
Stowell had staked his team to a quick 14-0 lead. From there it was Bialostok who led the way. Having one of his most amazing halfs of his college career, the senior led his team on three straight drives that led to touchdown runs by the QB. The first one was set up when Fabian Arrizon intercepted an errant pass by McCaffrey giving the Scots the ball at the Knox 32. Six plays later Macalester was knocking on the door to the Prairie Fire end zone, and on a second and goal play from the one, Bialostok kept the ball and followed his line into the end zone for the 21-0 lead.
Another three-n-out led to a Knox punt that was downed at the Macalester 45-yard line just before the end of the first quarter. From there Bialostok and Stowell took over the drive. The junior running back had three carries for 16 yards, while the QB went 2-2 passing and had two carries of seven yards each to move the ball to the Prairie Fire seven. On a third and four play, Bialostok went back to pass and the pocket quickly began to close around him. The QB remained cool as ever, and when a lane opened to his right, he read it perfectly and took the opening to the end zone for the 28-0 lead. It was his third overall score of the game.
In talking about the play after the game the senior talked about how his instincts played a huge role in the score. “As a quarterback there is an internal clock in your head, and when I could feel that pressure around me, I knew it was time to go. There was a lane and I took it for the score.
By this point, the Scots QB was having a career day and it was only four minutes into the second quarter. He was not through yet.
On the Prairie Fire’s next possession they recorded their first first-down of the game, but three plays later were forced to punt again. The punt rolled through the end zone, meaning Bialostok would have to go 80-yards for the score. He was clearly up to the task. Three of the first five plays of the drive were pass plays, with two being completed to Tre Nowaczynski for 27 yards. The next eight plays were runs, with the carries alternating between Stowell, Jacob Jones and Ethan Carpenter until the Scots were at second and goal at the Knox one-yard line. There the senior QB followed his line on a quarterback sneak for the score, and a 34-0 lead.
The Scots had a last second field goal blocked, but that was about all that went wrong in the first half. On offense they were rolling, putting up 269 yards on 44 plays. Bialostok was incredibly sharp, and was having his best game of the season by far. He finished the first-half 10-12 for 116 yards and a score, and also ran nine times for 35 yards and three more scores. Of his first-half performance he was happy about only one thing – what it meant for his team. “I don’t worry about what my numbers are individually. The important stat for me is the score, and that we were winning was all that mattered.”
While Bialostok was modest about his performance, his coach was thrilled. Asked about if he saw this as his quarterback turning the corner, Coach Jennison responded, “Oh I think so. He looked really good out there. As coaches we will go back and nit-pick little things we saw today, but I honestly don’t think we will find much. He looked really good today.”
|Safety Jole Miller||Cornerback Konnor Fleming||Linebacker Ryan Fleming||Linebacker Reid Callahan|
|The Four Leaders of the Macalester Scots Braveheart Defense Help to Extinguish the Knox College Prairie Fire offense in 34-0 Victory|
While the offense was putting up video game numbers on the scoreboard, the defense was smothering the Knox offense. The Prairie Fire ran 21 plays in the first-half for a grand total of 30 yards and two first downs. It was a dominate performance designed by defensive coordinator Marshall Mullenbach, and Coach Jennison was quick to give him all the credit. “Marshall Mullenback and his staff are just incredible. I’ve learned to shut-up around those guys and just let them do their job. They do an incredible job of designing game plans, and they built a great plan that shutdown the Knox running game, which was a key to the game.”
Shutting down the Prairie Fire running game is exactly what they did, holding them to eight yards on 14 carries. RB Terry White, who entered the game fourth in the conference in rushing yards, was held to just nine yards in the first-half, as the Scots defensive line just dominated the line of scrimmage.
In the second-half, Bialostok came out after the two series, and the Scots offense struggled to maintain possession of the ball, but the defense was up to the task of snuffing out this Fire. On Knox’s first possession of the half they drove to the two-yard line and looked like they were going to end the shutout, but on a first and goal play McCaffrey moved to his right and looked like he might find a small seam to get into the end zone for the score, but LB Ryan Fleming and his brother Konnor stripped the ball and Reid Callahan recovered the fumble at the Scots five. Once again the defense had come up big.
For Callahan, the fumble recovery was the perfect reward for the hard work the senior was putting in all game long. He only finished with three official tackles, but he and Ryan Fleming were around the ball all afternoon. The older Fleming was not to be outdone however. Konnor finished with six tackles on the day, tied for second most with his little brother, and had a pass-breakup to add to his resume. It was an outstanding day for the Fleming brothers for sure.
Along with Konnor, the defensive backs were having a great day all the way around. Safety Jole Miller had two huge pass-breakups and Forest Redlin had an interception that resulted in a 41-yard return. The Scots secondary allowed just 113 yards through the air, and had two interceptions and six pass plays broken up. It was a dominant effort from every line of their defense.
Next week the Scots travel to Ripon College to take on the Red Hawks. Despite the fact that their foes are 1-3, Coach Jennison sees this as one of the biggest challenges the team will face this year. “They scare me,” the Coach assessed sincerely. “They run an unusual offense, which means that we have to play very sound defensively. They are a really good football team, and we have our work cut out for ourselves.”
Miller knows he will have to bring his “A” game to stop the Red Hawks offense. “We have never faced a team like this before, so this is going to mean a lot of learning on our part. We are going to have to learn new jobs. We have a lot of game planning to do for sure.”
The Scots can revel in today’s big shutout win, but they know they have work to do to keep the momentum going. Macalester has a good shot at winning the next three games, but then they face the toughest part of their schedule the last two weeks of the season with games against Carroll and St. Norbert. They are showing improvement every week, and if their Braveheart defense continues to play like they did today, they have a great shot at running the table.
By Robert Pannier
Pictures Courtesy of Macalester College