by Odille Parker
The Hope College football team prevailed with a solid run game and a stingy defense under rainy skies — shutting out Defiance College (Ohio) 41-0 on Saturday.
This is the first time in 21 years that the Flying Dutchmen blanked the same opponent in consecutive seasons. Hope shutout Benedictine University (Illinois) 34-0 in 1996 and 27-0 in 1997.
The Flying Dutchmen shut out Defiance 38-0 in Hope's 2017 home opener.
Junior quarterback Mason Opple of Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville HS), pictured, was a key piece of the offense. He scored on a two-yard run on the opening drive of the game en route to a career-high four rushing touchdowns.
Head coach Peter Stuursma said Hope's first drive gave good momentum, but the Flying Dutchmen missed opportunities after that despite the final score.
"Winning in college football is hard, so we will take the win, but we have a long way to go and a lot to improve upon," Stuursma said. "We're going to enjoy the next 24 hours and then get back to work to keep creating a winning atmosphere."
Stuursma praised the team's defense, which held Defiance to 84 yards total and came up with sacks by senior Tate Knapp of Dorr, Michigan (Hamilton HS) and junior Mason Dekker of Holland, Michigan (West Ottawa HS).
Junior defensive back Conner Nemmers from Grand Rapids, MI (West Catholic HS) picked off Logan Micos for his first collegiate interception. The 23-yard return set up Hope's final touchdown — a 19-yard pass from Opple to junior wide receiver Cooper Cecchini from Jenison, Michigan (Hudsonville HS).
Senior defensive back Kyle Krumm of Okemos, Michigan (Okemos HS) denied Defiance another chance at scoring late in the fourth with a hard-fought interception on third down. It was Defiance's final possession.
On the other side of the ball, the Flying Dutchmen improved on their third-down conversions from last week's game with 11 of 19 conversions. Stuursma believes there is still improvement to be made in that area.
Running back Vinnie Pelione from Warren, Michigan (De La Salle Collegiate) also stepped up to the plate and led Hope with a 103 rushing yards. This was the sophomore's first career 100-yard game.
Opple scored his four touchdowns on a runs of one, one, two and seven yards. In addition to his touchdown pass to Cecchini, he connected with Logan Shadaia of Oakland, Michigan (Lake Orion) on a four-yard scoring strike.
Another positive takeaway, Stuursma said, was the number of Hope players who got the opportunity to get playing time. More than 45 players had the chance to step foot on the field.
"This is always a good learning opportunity for (the players), and a chance for (the coaching staff) to see what we have and can keep improving upon," Stuursma said.
The Flying Dutchmen play their final nonleague game next Saturday at Wisconsin Lutheran with a 1:00 p.m. Central time kickoff.