Fortunate children across America reluctantly eat their vegetables, under the pretense that they will grow up and become big and strong. Especially privileged families even offer the reward of dessert.
For the first three weeks, football Saturdays were less palatable a heaping plate of broccoli for the Choctaws. MC was outscored 122-33 through those initial games, mangled by poor special teams play and low reverence for ball security. After stacking yards and stringing drives together, MC had trouble scoring in the red zone, reflected in a 40% efficiency mark.
The steady herbivorous diet was broken up once the Choctaws entered the meat of their season, going undefeated through three interconference games.
MC scored 124 points in those games, scoring in 72% of red zone chances. The offense scored 4 touchdowns per game, after only 4 TDs through the first 3 weeks.
The Choctaws ate their vegetables, and learned their lessons. As promised, they started getting their just deserts.
MC’s most impressive offensive game came in week seven against Howard-Payne University. The Choctaws evened their record at 3-3 as they blasted for a season high 542 yards, while stuffing 34 points onto the scoreboard.
HPU was trailing by 3 entering the 4th quarter, a testament to their resilience after the Choctaws constructed an early 0-17 lead. MC’s defense allowed them to stay competitive throughout the game, but stepped up and closed out the game in the fourth quarter.
Howard-Payne began their first drive of the final quarter at midfield, after stopping MC on a 4th-and-15 try. Freshman cornerback Mario Pun jumped in front of a pass for a second-down drive-ending interception. That turnover led to a Jonathon Redd rushing touchdown, his third of the game. Redd also had a 56-yard passing touchdown.
The following HPU drive also led to an interception, this time by Junior Jonathen Berryman. The play was negated by an offside call against MC, but the football again found its way into Choctaw hands on the next play. Pun cut off a screen pass for his second steal of the day, this time escorting the ball 41 yards for a score. MC led 24-41, and would not need to score again to put away the 38-41 win.
Pun’s two grabs and his score led to American Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors.
MC’s three game streak was their best since 2009, when the Choctaws won the ASC championship.
The Choctaws followed that game with another impressive game at home in week eight.
School spirit was more present in the air than the foam tomahawks that embodied it, as MC welcomed alumni and friends to campus for Homecoming weekend. The opponent was Texas Lutheran University, who carried an impressive undefeated resume into Saturday’s game.
Friday’s Follies carried over to the football field early Saturday, as the Choctaws committed 2 turnovers in the first quarter, both leading to TLU touchdowns.
After the careless opening quarter by MC, reminiscent of their vegetative season start, the Choctaws outscored Texas Lutheran 21-32.
MC scored on consecutive drives in the second quarter.
A 16-yard sack by Senior Doc Ward led to Redd taking the first snap of the drive from the TLU 45-yard line. He connected with Junior Jamie Harris for a 43-yard strike, then Redd picked up the remaining 2 yards on the ground to give the Choctaws their first score of the day.
Redd distributed the ball to 7 different targets on his way to 230 yards and a score through the air. He complemented his passing with 59 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground.
The next drive for MC saw featured both Redd and Sophomore Stacey Dillard at quarterback, an 18-play sequence that traversed 74 yards. Dillard punctuated the drive with a touchdown pass to preseason All-American Senior wideout Alex Archer.
Sophomore Hunter Estess procured 3 points for the Choctaws with a 32-yard field goal in the third quarter. Estess missed a 40-yard attempt in the first half.
The MC defense forced TLU to punt in response, but the 4th-down snap was fumbled, and the Choctaws gained possession near midfield. A costly Texas Lutheran face mask penalty primed Redd to connect with Junior Mike Johnson for a 25-yard score.
Johnson lugged the ball for 58 yards in the game, and received an additional 51.
Entering the final quarter, MC trailed 28-24. TLU then scored on a 48-yard run, which brought their lead to an 11 point margin.
With four minutes remaining in the contest, Redd scored on a 19-yard rush, then found Harris for the two-point conversion. That pulled the Choctaws into a 3 point game, down 35-32.
MC’s defense limited TLU to a single set of downs. With nearly two and a half minutes remaining, Texas Lutheran lined up in punt formation.
Redd prepared himself on the sideline to lead a game winning drive.
TLU faked the punt. They would retain possession until being forced to punt with just 12 seconds left to be played.
Redd attempted two passes, neither of which were sufficient. TLU defeated the homecoming-hyped Choctaws, 35-32.
Despite reducing their season record to 3-4, MC competed well against a very good team. The Choctaws beat the undefeated Texas Lutheran in every major category- except turnovers.
MC lost the turnover battle 3-0, and widened the season margin to a pitiful 23-12.
Without a trick punt and few turnovers in the game, the Choctaws might have left a better taste in the mouths of the 4,350 attendants. Instead, they left homecoming weekend feeling as if they had spinach caught in the crevices of their teeth.
MC remains in the lead of the American Southwest Conference, with a 3-0 record. The Choctaws will exclusively play ASC matchups for the remainder of the season. On Saturday, they will travel to East Texas Baptist University to face a beatable 2-5 squad.
– Andy O’Brien, Sports Editor