Football Holds Off High-Scoring Aurora in MIAA/NCAA Crossover Showdown

by Greg Chandler

The Hope College football team built up a 20-point halftime lead, then survived a second-half comeback bid by a high-powered offense Saturday to defeat unbeaten Aurora University (Illinois), 34-32, on Saturday at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium.

With the win, the Flying Dutchmen will take a 2-1 record into a bye week. Hope now prepares to launch Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association play Saturday, October 5, at defending league champion Trine University. 

"It's huge to get a win going into the bye week," head coach Peter Stuursma said. "We get to get some guys healed up, learn from what we did right and wrong. We've got a good week-and-a half to prepare for our next game."

Senior safety Luke Beckhusen of Coldwater, Michigan (Coldwater HS) sealed the win by recovering an onside kick after Aurora (2-1) scored with 53 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter on a hook-and-ladder play that covered 67 yards. 

Quarterback Mason Opple then kneeled twice to run out the final seconds. The senior from Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville) passed for 202 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for 86 yards and two scores.

Eight of Opple's 12 completions went to senior receiver Christian Bos of Hudsonville, Michigan (Unity Christian HS), who finished with a career-high 162 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

The 23- and 80-yard scores from Bos helped stake the Flying Dutchmen to a 20-0 halftime lead.

Hope limited Aurora — which came into the game averaging 577 yards of total offense and 49 points per game — to 88 yards of total offense during the first half. 

The Flying Dutchmen maintained possession for 21 minutes, 16 seconds of a possible 30 during the first two quarters.

Momentum swung Aurora's way in the third quarter. A fumble deep in Hope territory gave Aurora the football at the Hope 2-yard-line, and Aurora capitalized with a quick scoring pass. Then after a three-and-out by Hope's offense, Aurora drove back for another score to get back in the game at 20-13.

Opple's 1-yard plunge late in the third quarter extended the Flying Dutchmen lead, but Aurora answered with the third Zimbelman's four touchdown passes early in the fourth quarter. Hope stopped Zimbelman's two-point pass attempt to keep a two-point lead.

With 2:43 remaining, Hope forced a turnover on downs inside the Aurora 30-yard-line when senior defensive back Nick Holt of Norton Shores, Michigan (Muskegon Catholic Central HS) broke up a fourth-down pass attempt.

Hope took advantage of the short field to score a critical touchdown. On fourth-and-7 from the Aurora 26, Opple stared down a blitzing Spartan defender before hitting wide-open running back Connor Mellon of Adrian, Michigan (Madison HS) in the end zone, with 1:10 remaining.

Stuursma said offensive coordinator Andrew Hawken spotted a potential mismatch involving Mellon on that key pass play.

"He said in the headset, 'if (Mellon) gets free, he's going to score,'" Stuursma said. "Mason made a heads-up play, knowing the coverage they were in, there was no one going to be assigned to (Mellon) coming out of the backfield. He's going to sneak out. It was a huge call."

Opple now has eight touchdown passes on the season.

"They came off the left edge. I knew I was going to have (Mellon) going up a seam," Opple said. "At first, I thought I overthrew him. I just tried to give him a chance."

Zimbelman threw for 328 yards. He entered the game ranked second in Division III at 416.5 passing yards per game and first with 14 touchdown passes.

Holt also led the Flying Dutchmen with seven tackles. Hope sacked Zimbelman three times with one apiece for senior defensive end Jake Babb of Caledonia, Michigan (Caledonia), senior linebacker Mason Dekker of Holland, Michigan (West Ottawa) and senior defensive end Joe Romano of Royal Oak, Michigan (Shrine Catholic).

Head coach Peter Stuursma Interview | PO Box 9000, Holland, Michigan 49422