by Greg Chandler
The Hope College football team rode a dominating first-half performance to its fourth straight victory Saturday afternoon as the Flying Dutchmen defeated the Scots of Alma College, 52-23.
The Flying Dutchmen improved to 4-1 in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association and 6-2 overall heading into their Wooden Shoe rivalry game with Kalamazoo College on Saturday, November 3 at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium.
Against Alma, Hope set the tone for the game from the outset. The Flying Dutchmen took the opening kickoff and marched 72 yards in 14 plays while chewing up seven minutes off the clock. Junior quarterback Mason Opple of Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville HS) capped the drive with a 2-yard run for the first of his three touchdowns.
After forcing a three-and-out on Alma's first possession, Hope drove 56 yards in five plays to hit paydirt again, with Opple taking it in from nine yards out. A bad snap on the extra point was scooped up by the Scots' Colin Smith, who returned the ball 98 yards for two points.
It would be a refrain that would repeat itself throughout most of the first half. Hope scored on each of its first five possessions, while holding Alma (0-5 MIAA, 1-7 overall) without a first down for the game's first 27 minutes.
"Our defense was outstanding," head coach Peter Stuursma said. "Number one, I thought we had great pressure on their quarterback. I thought we played the run really well. Our safeties and corners, in run support, played really well, our linebackers played well. I was just real pleased with the effort. They had energy, they had excitement. It was fun to watch."
Freshman Evan Johnson of Okemos, Michigan (Holt) kicked a 20-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Opple followed with two touchdown passes – 33 yards to junior wide receiver Cooper Cecchini of Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville) and one yard to senior tight end Jake Kozlowski of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (Badger), as the Flying Dutchmen took a 30-2 halftime lead.
Hope extended its lead to 45-2 in the third quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run by senior running back Mike Miklusicak of Wayland, Michigan (Wayland) and Opple's third TD of the day, a 1-yard plunge.
After Alma scored a pair of touchdowns to whittle the lead to 45-16, Hope tacked on one more score in the fourth quarter, as freshman running back Kenyea Houston of Chicago, Illinois (George Westinghouse Prep) ran five yards for a touchdown.
The Flying Dutchmen piled up a season-high 529 yards of total offense, including 375 on the ground, and had 27 first downs.
Miklusicak rushed for 210 yards on 20 carries, making him the 10th Hope back in school history to top 2,000 career rushing yards. He now has 2,062 rushing yards for his career. He has gone over the 100-yard mark in a game eight times in his career and more than 200 yards twice.
Opple added 97 yards rushing on 16 carries. He was near-perfect through the air, completing 10 of 12 passes for 134 yards and two scores.
The Hope defense limited the Scots to 271 yards total offense, most of the yards coming after the game was in hand. Freshman linebacker Jacob Hoekstra of Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville) and sophomore defensive back Liam Tobin of Auburn, Michigan (Bay City Western) each recorded eight tackles, while Hoekstra recovered a fumble to set up a Hope scoring drive.
Hope's win moved the Flying Dutchmen into a second-place tie with Kalamazoo in the MIAA, one game behind league-leading Trine.
The 1 p.m. Senior Day game will be the final home game for the Flying Dutchmen for the 2018 season, and Stuursma is eagerly awaiting the challenge ahead.
"We were real pleased with the way we played on the road today," he said. "Now it's a big week for our seniors and their final home game."