Alma, Mich. - Finding a way to win. That's the message of the Alma College football team this week as they head to Adrian on Saturday (Oct. 10) to face the defending MIAA Champion Bulldogs.
"We let one slip away," said Head Coach Greg Pscodna, referring to last week's 21-20 homecoming loss to Trine. "We've got to finish games and we've got to make plays when we have an opportunity to do it. It's over and we have to move ahead. We have to get over the mental hump of letting a game slip through our fingers. Hopefully we can do that with an older, mature group of seniors."
The Scots did just about everything they needed to do to win last week, but a handful of plays allowed the Thunder to get back in the game and overcome a 13-point second-half deficit. This week, the attention turns to Adrian, which has defeated Alma in each of the last eight meetings.
"They have one of the best running backs in the league in Emmanuel Stewart," Pscodna said. "They always play a hard-nosed, aggressive style of football. In my opinion, their defense carries their offense. They stuff the run game and make you pass and get after you up front. It's going to be a big chore for us to go down there, especially since they lost to Olivet."
The Bulldogs are coming off of a 35-7 loss at Olivet and, like the Scots, are in search of their first MIAA win of the season. Stewart, an All-MIAA First Team selection a year ago, is averaging nearly 100 yards per game and paces the Bulldogs offensively.
Alma sports the best pass defense in the MIAA and will be charged with holding Adrian junior quarterback Stephan Milarch in check. The Scots have also found the quarterback 18 times this season - the most in the league and seventh-best in NCAA Division III - and look to keep that streak going on Saturday.
Sophomore Zac Peterson (Holt, Mich./Holt), the reigning MIAA Defensive Player of the Week, leads the way with a team-best 6.5 sacks to lead the MIAA and rank sixth nationally, while senior Terry Calagon (Jackson, Mich./East Jackson), has 4.5 to rank second in the MIAA. Both Peterson and Calagon also rank among the top 10 in Division III for tackles for loss as the Scots have made 37 stops behind the line of scrimmage this season.
"I think our defense has played well at times, and then at other times we've given up the big play, which has cost us," Pscodna said. "Our special teams, especially on Saturday, gave up one big play and that let Trine back into the football game. There's always room for improvement. Our kids are playing hard, which I am happy with. We just have to step up and make a crucial play at the crucial time to get us over the hump."
On the offensive side of the ball, junior Nick Sullivan (Flushing, Mich./Flint Powers Catholic) continues to be a force in the backfield. Sullivan, who earned MIAA Offensive Player of the Week honors against Trine, has scored three times in three of his four games this season and is the seventh-ranked scorer in NCAA Division III. Sullivan became one of only six Scots in school history to carry the ball 30 or more times last week, and ran for a career-high 182 yards, the ninth-highest rushing total in school history. He will be tested as Adrian boasts the league's second-ranked rush defense, led by seniors Dontrell Trucker and John Carlin.
Health has become an issue for the Scots, according to Pscodna. Still, at 2-2 after four games for the second straight season, he remains optimistic about the rest of the campaign.
"I like our team," Pscodna said. "Right now we are kind of banged up, and that worries me, because we've got some guys who have never really played before in a varsity games. But that's what we talk about all the time - a guy goes down and another guy has to step up. So it's a next man up mentality. If we ever have our whole team together we can be very competitive, which we've shown at times this year. We just need to try to stay healthy and get everybody on the same page."
The Scots will be looking to end a pair of streaks on Saturday. Alma has dropped the last seven MIAA contests, dating back to last season, and has also suffered defeats in its last eight MIAA road games, with its last win coming on Sept. 29, 2012 at Olivet.
"Every game in the MIAA is very competitive year in and year out," Pscodna said. "We've had some opportunities to win some of those games, but we haven't. We've got to find a way to win. That's the message we are using this week and for the rest of the season."
Kickoff is set for 5:00 p.m. at Docking Stadium on the campus of Adrian College. In the Alma area, the game can be heard live on WMLM 1520 AM with Collin Hinman calling the action.