Millikin Battles for Week One Victory

The Quarterback’s Perspective


Photo Courtesy of Millikin University

MU Quarterback Nicco Stepina and Jazontae Howard, mid hand-off

We Big Blue players, coaches and staff knew this wasn’t going to be an ordinary week one matchup. As impressive as our team was a season ago, recording 7 wins to only 3 losses, our first opponent’s record was even more impressive.

Hope College finished the 2017 season boasting an 8-2 record and have high hopes with a 2018 squad that returns many key players, including an NFL prospect at cornerback that missed the entirety of the previous season due to injury. Playing in one of the toughest conferences in Division 3 football, the only question that surrounded us heading into this game was how tough is that MIAA conference in Michigan? The quick answer, extremely.  

Before the team even departed to Holland, Michigan, the players and coaches knew a lot about their opponent. We were not going to be the biggest guys on the field. Hope has size at every position on the field, including a 230 pound quarterback that runs the ball like a bruising fullback.

We knew that in order to win this game the defense had to control the line of scrimmage with speed and scheme, while the offense had to rely on their playmakers to just be playmakers. Hope’s defense is fundamentally sound, which has its positives and negatives. They know where they need to be and when they need to be there. The only fault is, so do we.

The undersized offense has to rely on athleticism and anticipation to score points on a defense that only allowed 17 points per game in 2017.

Once the game was finished, everything we knew we were stepping in to was apparent, plus some added realizations. For starters, the offense found out quickly that the defensive line was one of the best groups we would see all season. The defensive ends had length, knocking down quick throws from the air, and size that allowed them to rush the quarterback effectively.

We also found out that as an offense, we weren’t going to see a lot of possession time in this game. With bruising running backs and a massive running quarterback, Hope was going to control the clock as much as possible. We knew as an offense we had to score any chance we touched the ball because opportunities might become thin throughout the game. For the defense, controlling the line of scrimmage and getting guys in the backfield had to be the memo for this matchup.

The two biggest reasons for our 25-21 victory is the depth on the defensive side of the ball and the crossover of our team’s resilience from last season. It wasn’t hot on Friday night, but it was definitely humid enough to get a nice sweat started.

The humidity caught up to many players, as the first game normally does because the body isn’t quite acclimated to the physical stress of a 60 minute game. Because of this, the coaches had to rely on non-starters to step up and play like a starter. The victory showed that those guys were more than capable of doing so.  

With a Hope 21-19 lead after halftime, the defense found its rhythm, not allowing a single point scored in the last 30 minutes of play. The turning point of the game was the fact that it wasn’t just the starters that created havoc for the Hope offense in the second half, but the rotational guys that had the energy to fill in and still be as productive in the defense’s schemes.

In 2017, we executed on 3 different fourth quarter comebacks. With many returning players, the question surrounded whether that same resilient team would show up in 2018. Sure enough, we got our first test in the first game of the year.

The answer is that this football team is just as hungry for a win as the record breaking team from a season ago. The guys in our locker room refuse to accept defeat, and a Gerald Perry touchdown with 8:40 remaining in the fourth quarter solidified that. The culture of Big Blue football has changed. There is no more acceptance of mediocrity. A pact has been formed between us football guys in blue, a pact that has been engraved through blood, sweat and tears. This team is destined for a special year.