Alma, Mich. - The Alma College football team is preparing for what is the biggest game of the year as they travel to Holland, Mich., to face Hope College on Saturday (Oct. 24).
The Scots are coming off a 36-27 home win over Kalamazoo, while the Flying Dutchmen are still looking for their first win in MIAA play after falling to the Albion and Olivet, the top two teams in the league, by a combined five points. The game is also Homecoming at Hope, which should lead towards a great atmosphere as Alma plays under the lights for the third straight week.
"It's going to be a challenge for us. This is the biggest game of the year," Head Coach Greg Pscodna said. "It's their homecoming and I expect a big crowd. Hopefully we get off to a great start and keep it rolling for 60 minutes."
The Scots will be looking for a quick start as they seek their fourth win of the year, a total that hasn't been achieved since the 2009 campaign. Alma is outscoring opponents by a 74-28 margin this year, but had to come from behind last week after giving up a touchdown on the opening kickoff and trailing for the first time all season after the first quarter of play.
"It was kind of disheartening to have the opening kickoff returned for a touchdown, and you wonder at that point what kind of night its going to be," Pscodna said about last week's game. "I give the kids a lot of credit. We stuck with our game plan. It's a long 60 minutes of football and that's what we preach all the time. We made some big plays and that was the key to the game."
The Scots played well in all three phases of the game last week - offense, defense and special teams - as sophomore placekicker Ryan Maguire (Grand Haven, Mich./Grand Haven) made a career-high three field goals, including a career-long 31-yard attempt. Maguire earned MIAA Special Teams Player of the Week honors last week and snapped a string of six straight missed field goal attempts in the win.
"When we called on Ryan to kick the ball, he did." Pscodna said. "He made three field goals and that was key because we came away with points and didn't get shut out at those times."
Besides solid play from the kicking game, a weapon that has emerged over the past two games is senior receiver Sean McDonald (Gladwin, Mich./Gladwin) who has 290 yards and four touchdowns in his last two appearances. McDonald gives the Scots another option to an already potent offense that includes sophomore quarterback Dylan Zaborowski (Jackson, Mich./Michigan Center), junior running back Nick Sullivan (Flushing, Mich./Flint Powers Catholic), sophomore receiver Daniel Hugan (Ann Arbor, Mich./Ann Arbor Huron) and senior receiver Erik Hines (Menominee, Mich./Menominee).
"Sean's gaining confidence that he can catch the ball and make some routes," Pscodna said. "We've got some weapons on offense that the defense has to decide what to cover. Sean's done a great job of taking advantage of that, Dylan Zaborowski has thrown some nice passes to him and we made some plays. At times last year and the beginning of this season we haven't made those plays and now we are and it's been a different result."
Hope presents a challenge to the Scots as the Flying Dutchmen sport the MIAA's top scoring defense, allowing just over 18 points a game. In addition, Hope senior Matt Kroll is the leading receiver in the league, averaging over 100 yards a game, while sophomore Chris Leigh averages over 100 yards a game on the ground. They will test the Scots' defense, which has emerged as one of the top units in the MIAA and one of the best in the nation at getting to the ball behind the line of scrimmage. Alma ranks seventh in NCAA Division III in sacks and 11th nationally in tackles for loss and leads the MIAA in both categories.
"It's going to be tough this week. Hope doesn't do a lot of flashy stuff and they play a lot of basic football where they line up and hit you off the ball," Pscodna said. "We are going to have to be very aggressive on defense. We're not a very big defensive front, but we are playing with confidence. We've got to go out there and create some turnovers, and if we can do that and put our offense in some good positions, we should be alright."
Kickoff is set for 6:00 p.m. at the Ray & Sue Smith Stadium on the campus of Hope College. The game will be streamed live on the web and fans in the Alma area can hear the game live on WMLM 1520 AM with Collin Hinman calling the action.