by Alan Babbitt
The Hope College football team made its mark with a season-ending, 33-14 victory at Adrian College on Saturday.
The Flying Dutchmen became the third in team history to post back-to-back, eight-win seasons. They joined Hope teams from the 1974 and 1975 seasons and the 1958 and 1959 seasons.
Hope has gone 8-2 in consecutive seasons.
"Credit goes to our players that were able to buy in with what we wanted to do here and will us to that," head coach Peter Stuursma said. "I'm proud of their efforts. I'm proud of the things they do in the offseason like the weight room. They certainly raised the bar."
Seventeen seniors led that charge for the Flying Dutchmen, a group that includes the likes of defensive end Tate Knapp of Dorr, Michigan (Hamilton) and running back Mike Miklusicak of Wayland, Michigan (Wayland).
Knapp recorded a team-high eight tackles and two sacks. He also was involved with a first-quarter safety that gave Hope a 2-0 lead. He concluded the season with a career-high and Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association-leading 12 sacks.
Miklusicak rushed for 95 yards on 23 carries. He concluded his Flying Dutchmen career with 2,274 rushing yards — seventh-most in team history.
Junior quarterback Mason Opple of Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville) threw for 179 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a game-high 171 yards and two touchdowns.
During the second quarter, Opple extended Hope's lead to 16-0 with a 4-yard score to receiver Christian Bos of Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville HS) on a shovel pass and a 21-yard strike to senior tight end Jake Kozlowski of Lake Geneva, Michigan (Badger). He has 15 touchdown passes on the season.
Opple directed three more scoring drives in the second half after Adrian pulled within 16-14 by halftime.
Freshman Evan Johnson of Okemos, Michigan (Holt) kicked a 22-yard field goal to cap the opening drive of the third quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Opple finished a 12-play, 73-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Ten minutes later, Opple completed a 13-play, 55-yard drive with another 1-yard run.
Opple ended the season with a career-high 18 rushing touchdowns — second-most among all MIAA players for 10 games.
The 18 rushing touchdowns are the third-most in a single by any Hope player. Running back Brandon Graham holds the top two spots with 21 rushing touchdowns in 1996 and 20 in 1997.
"The key to the second half was when we had a good drive to start the second half," Stuursma said. "We got three points out of it, and that made a big difference from a confidence standpoint. I thought they had a little momentum at the end of the first half. We had three pretty good drives after that to put an exclamation point on it."