by Alan Babbitt
Quarterback Mason Opple kept his options to himself on a blustery and chilly night at Smith Stadium.
The junior from Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville HS) made all the right moves and had one big weekend for the Hope College football team.
Led by a record-setting Opple, the Flying Dutchmen held off Olivet College for a 35-30 homecoming victory that kept Hope one game out of first place in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association standings with three games left.
Opple, pictured, rushed for a career-high 244 yards on a career-high 27 carries and figured in four of the Flying Dutchmen's five touchdowns. He ran for more yards than any quarterback in Hope College history — surpassing Joe Schwander's 2005 effort of 209 yards against Alma College.
Entering Week 8 of the 2018 NCAA Division III football season, only three other Division III quarterbacks had rushed for more yards in a game than Opple this season.
Opple cut through the 20-mile per hour winds and the Comets in a variety of ways. He kept the ball on option plays on the win. He called draws and headed up field. He lowered his shoulder and spun nimble around defenders for extra yards.
Head coach Peter Stuursma praised Opple's ability to excel despite a challenging opponent and playing conditions.
"He wants the ball in his hands when it counts, when it matters. I kept saying, 'Keep putting the ball in his hands,'" Stuursma said. "He kept his composure. He kept us in the game. He kept us in the hunt and just gave us a chance to win."
Opple tied for the ninth-most rushing yards in a game by a Hope football player. The Flying Dutchmen needed every single yard to improve to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in MIAA play.
The win wasn't secure until junior Nicholas Holt of Muskegon, Michigan (Catholic Central HS) recovered an onside kick after two successful Olivet scoring drives and ran out the clock with a 6-yard Opple keeper and a 12-yard run by senior Mike Miklusicak of Wayland, Michigan (Wayland).
Opple scored on touchdown runs of 1, 1 and 10 yards. He set up his go-ahead, 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter with an 81-yard run to the Olivet 1-yard line that was one of the longest plays in Flying Dutchmen history.
On a 3rd-and-13 from the Hope 19-yard line, Opple took off on a draw play and nearly scored before he was tackled inches before he touched the end zone pylon with the football.
Opple matched running back Brandon Graham with the sixth-longest rushing play in Hope history. Graham went 81 yards versus Olivet in 1995.
Opple didn't throw much, completing 6-of-12 attempts for 45 yards (all season lows). One of his completions was a 24-yard strike to junior Cooper Cecchini of Hudsonville, MIchigan (Hudsonville) for a third-quarter touchdown.
"You don't really feel it. You're just out there in the flow of the game," Opple said of his performance. "You just want to get yards, get first downs, keep moving the chains. We didn't move it when we had to at the end, when we had a chance to seal it, but managed to get it done."
Photo of Mason Opple by Lynne Powe
Opple's previous career-high was 140 rushing yards against Albion last season at Smith Stadium. He praised his blockers — from offensive linemen to receivers — for creating room for him to run.
"I think it goes without saying what our offensive line has been able to do. The last three years, they've been able to manhandle the line of scrimmage," Opple said. "When you get to that next level, we got our receivers out there and they want to block. They pride in blocking those guys down field. That's how you break those big ones."
The Flying Dutchmen finished with a season-high 383 rushing yards against Olivet (4-3, 2-2 MIAA). Miklusicak had 85 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries.
The homecoming victory was the 54th in 88 tries for Hope.
The Flying Dutchmen's next game is Saturday, October 27 at Alma College. Kickoff is 1 p.m.