Echoing the overarching theme of the 2023 season, the Presbyterian College football team hung their hats on a simply outstanding defensive performance during Saturday afternoon’s back-and-forth battle versus Morehead State, utilizing four key takeaways to down a sizzling Eagles’ attack, 31-27.
The program’s highest-scoring output in a Pioneer Football League contest while simultaneously the second-ever win in conference play since formally joining the division in 2021, the Blue Hose never floundered despite some misfortunes and took down an MSU squad that had blasted Davidson seven days earlier in a 30-point whipping.
Altogether, eight of the team’s 11 bouts this fall were decided by a margin of fewer than 10 points, as PC’s trio of interceptions (from the gloves of Brooks Russ-Martin, Anthony Thornton, and Caleb Francis) registered as the second-most in a single game since the school joined the NCAA’s Division I level in 2007.
Head coach Steve Englehart closes the book on his second year in Clinton with a 4-7 final tally – a three-win improvement over the previous campaign – with a handful of culture-swinging victories such as Saturday’s clutch showing at Bailey Memorial Stadium.
The blue and garnet will now stroll into the offseason with a pleasant taste in their mouths following the Morehead State triumph, the school’s 56th all-time win at Bailey since the facility was inaugurated 21 years back.
FINAL SCORE: Presbyterian, 31 – Morehead State, 27
RECORDS: Presbyterian (4-7, 2-6) – Morehead State (4-7, 3-5)
LOCATION: Bailey Memorial Stadium | Clinton, S.C.
– Russ-Martin inked one of the most dominant performances in Presbyterian history as his defense continually got off the mat to the roar of the Blue Hose crowd, both causing and returning a fumble 97 yards to the house and later achieving a 4th-quarter interception that helped seal the decision with just over six minutes left.
– Lined up opposite MSU quarterback Bryce Patterson (who found six of his 10 completions against Davidson go for a TD), Russ-Martin was followed by Thornton and Francis as fellow DB’s to snare a midair pass from the Eagles, the latter of which closed the coffin with 1:18 on the clock.
– Russ-Martin now holds the all-time PC record of longest fumble recovery after yanking the ball loose and sprinting the other direction in the 3rd, the biggest spark in a 21-7 game-ending spurt that enabled coach E’s unit to conclude ’23 on a major high.
– One of the biggest shining stars of defensive coordinator Daniel Owen‘s crew all semester, junior linebacker Alex Herriott brought his season-total to 118 tackles beside nine more on Saturday, surpassing Antwan Thomas (2008) for the second-highest number over one year in Presby’s D-I book.
– The main focus may have been on PC’s D, although a collection of impactful offensive numbers aided the W. Sophomore tight end Terik Mulder was certainly one of those contributors, pawing both of his catches in the end zone (including the game-winner from 18 yards away as the clock read 6:03).
– Rebounding from the past two outcomes that saw their offense fail to reach the 20-point tab, Presbyterian surged to 391 total yards to get the better of the Eagles. Tyler Wesley and Ty Englehart combined for 16 completions that went for 236 yards, the longest of which sailed to Cincere Gill for a 47-yard score on the opening snap of the final frame.
– The Blue Hose finish up the ’23 slate with an average of just 144 passing yards allowed per game, the third-fewest number of any team at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level.
HOW IT HAPPENED – SECOND HALF
– Another sign of the squad’s infectious ability to shake off any shortcomings, Englehart marched his club to paydirt on the opening series of the 3rd period – a five-play drive encapsulated by a 46-yard QB draw and a six-yard dart past the pylon to Mulder.
– Causing yet another three-and-out on Morehead’s first set of the second half, PC saw their momentum ripped away in an instant after the Eagles stepped in front of an errant pass with nothing but green grass ahead, their second non-offensive touchdown of the affair to flip the advantage back to double digits (20-10).
– A bizarre turn of events unfolded near the midway point of the period, as MSU managed to get a hand on Mikko’s next FG try with 8:11 on the board, only for Thornton to hand the ball right back to Presby on a deep route pick that was first disrupted by Sebastian Conwell.
– This wouldn’t lead to any fortuitousness, however, thanks to a 4th-and-1 gamble at the Morehead 16 that couldn’t get beyond the line of scrimmage.
– The situation started to feel increasingly grim once the Eagles embarked on an eight-play sequence all the way down to the 2-yard line, although the mood took a sharp 180-degree curve after Russ-Martin wrenched the ball free and raced nearly a full field the other way.
– Only the beginning of the Blue Hose’s late-game eruption, they’d stop Morehead short of the line to gain on 4th-and-1 near the midfield marker which turned into Wesley’s longball in the first breaths of the last quarter.
– Back in control at 24-20 following Gill’s grab, a four-game losing skid seemed on the way to snapping until MSU mustered an unlikely 36-yard TD on 4th-and-8 to reclaim the advantage with exactly nine minutes displayed.
– Having been in this situation on multiple occasions, the Blue Hose’s demeanor didn’t change despite the pressure ramping upward. Wesley led his crew on a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown series to permanently snatch back the lead, including a 43-yard lob to Dominic Kibby and Mulder’s second diving score of the bout to bring his season-total to five TD’s.
– The confidence level soared from then on, halting Morehead’s last two trips with INT’s from Russ-Martin and Francis that achieved the winning result. Thornton was the one responsible for tipping the Eagles’ desperation heave into the air, providing Francis with the room he needed to toe the sideline and stay in bounds for victory formation.
Photo credit – PC