By Scott DeWeerd
Albion College completed its undefeated run through the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association by scoring a 34-31 victory over Hope College at Ray & Sue Smith Stadium.
Trailing 31-27 with less than 2 minutes remaining in the game, 75 yards seemed like a mile for an Albion offense that failed to put points on the board in 7 out of its previous 10 drives. However, the Britons' desire to get "just one more" could not be denied, and sophomore quarterback Dominic Bona came through in the clutch to deliver a game-winning drive in impressively efficient fashion. Bona was 3 for 3 for 42 yards on the drive, including a 4-yard pass to senior tight end Sage Alward to give the Britons the lead with 51 seconds remaining.
But the Flying Dutchmen weren't going to let the Britons go home without a fight.
Hope senior Vincent Boddy returned the kickoff for 23 yards, and made a 23-yard catch along the sideline before getting shoved out of bounds by first-year defensive back Jose Rodriguez -- and just like that, Hope was in field goal range.
With 4 seconds remaining, Hope lined up for a 31-yard field goal attempt to force the game into overtime. But the home crowd walked away disappointed as senior kicker Evan Finch's field goal clanked off the left upright.
When asked about his team's game-winning drive, head coach Craig Randle said, "We just made plays. Dominic was throwing the ball well. The guys got in a rhythm and made plays."
There were a number of notable statistics to come out of the victory. Rundle gained his 100th win at Albion and the 157th of his career. Albion, owners of a league-best 35 MIAA championships, will make their 10th appearance in the NCAA Division III Playoffs. Albion will receive its assignment for the playoffs in a 6 p.m. Sunday show broadcast on the NCAA website.
"[The undefeated conference record] is a tribute to our kids," Rundle said. "The guys believed in themselves and worked hard. I'm really proud of them."
Rolling through its MIAA rivals was unexpected by anyone outside the program after Albion went through a rough patch in September. Widely dismissed after a blowout loss at Wheaton College, the Britons might finally be vindicated.
"No one understood the circumstances surrounding Wheaton. They just saw the score," Rundle said about the 66-0 loss to the Thunder. "Our guys knew they were better than that, and they set out to prove it."
And prove it they did.
With resilience being a key to Albion's success throughout the year, it couldn't have been any more fitting for Bona to lead the game-winning touchdown drive after throwing an interception that would be returned for a touchdown late in the second quarter.
"He showed what he's all about," Rundle said of Bona's performance. "He's matured a lot. He's not going to let one bad play get him down."
Albion finished the day with 413 yards of total offense. Bona completed 20 of 37 passes for 193 total yards and a touchdown. Senior running back Darrin Williams rushed for 89 yards on 18 attempts. Sophomore running back Michael Czarnecki ripped off two huge running plays for a combined 99 yards. Junior receiver Zach Brigham led all receivers with 6 catches for 37 yards.
Hope quarterback Michael Atwell completed 21 passes on 43 attempts for 337 yards and 3 touchdowns.