by Greg Chandler
The Hope College football team opened its Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association season with an emphatic victory at two-time defending conference champion Trine (Ind.) University Saturday afternoon.
The Flying Dutchmen scored the first five times they possessed the football, and their defense did not allow the 24th-ranked Thunder to reach the red zone the entire game.
The result: a 51-0 victory, Hope's first shutout win in an MIAA opener in nine years and the Flying Dutchmen's highest point output in a conference opener in 20 years.
It was also the first time Trine had been shut out in 111 games, dating back to the 2008 NCAA Division III playoffs.
"I'm just so proud of our guys – offense, defense, special teams – everybody did something. Everybody contributed," Hope coach Peter Stuursma said. "The guys were lasered in."
Hope will take a 3-1 overall record into its homecoming game next Saturday against Albion College at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium. Kickoff is at 3 p.m.
Playing in front of Trine's homecoming crowd of 6,375 fans at Zollner Stadium, the Flying Dutchmen served notice from the outset that this would be their day.
After forcing a three-and-out on Trine's first possession, Hope drove 80 yards in 12 plays for the game's first points. Senior quarterback Mason Opple of Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville HS) scored on a 3-yard touchdown run. Senior Sam Allbritten of Warsaw, Indiana (Warsaw HS) kicked the extra point to give the Dutchmen a 7-0 lead.
The Hope defense came up with a big play on the Thunder's next possession. Trine elected to go for it on fourth-and-8 from the Hope 41, but senior defensive end Jake Babb of Caledonia, Michigan (Caledonia HS) and junior linebacker Jeremiah Purnell of Dorr, Michigan (Wyoming HS) teamed up to sack Thunder quarterback Brandon Winters for a 10-yard loss. Hope took over on downs in Trine territory.
The Flying Dutchmen would take advantage of the short field, taking just five plays to go 49 yards for their second touchdown. Opple threw the first of his three touchdown passes on the day, connecting with senior wide receiver Cooper Cecchini of Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville HS) on an 8-yard scoring pass to extend the Hope lead to 14-0.
In the second quarter, Allbritten added to the Hope lead with a 46-yard field goal, tying the record for the longest field goal in school history. Darren Ford kicked two 46-yard field goals in 2016 against Adrian College.
In the second quarter, Hope added to its lead. The Flying Dutchmen elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 46. Trine tried to jam the line, but Opple scooted to the outside for a 12-yard gain. That would eventually lead to a 5-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Kenyea Houston of Chicago, Illinois (Westinghouse Prep).
Then just before halftime, Opple found freshman wide receiver TJ McKenzie of Muskegon, Michigan (North Muskegon HS) for a 7-yard touchdown pass, and Hope led 31-0 at halftime.
"In my opinion, there were two keys (to the game)," Stuursma said. "No. 1, we stopped them on their first drive. That was huge … then we took the ball right down the field and scored. I think the second key point was fourth and a yard. They load the box, they know we're going to run Mason, and we almost broke it. That was an emotional charge for us."
Hope didn't let up in the second half. Houston scored his second touchdown of the day on a 19-yard run and Opple hooked up with Cecchini again on a 20-yard scoring strike to make it 45-0 going into the fourth quarter.
The Flying Dutchmen closed out the scoring on a 1-yard run by sophomore running back Brandon Anderson of Cassopolis, Michigan (Ross Beatty HS) with 12:35 remaining.
The Hope defense was relentless all day long, limiting the Thunder to nine first downs and 169 yards of total offense, less than half of what Trine had averaged in its first three games. The Thunder's deepest penetration was the Hope 34-yard line in the second quarter, but the Dutchmen held and took over on downs.
Trine came into the game with a 52 percent conversion rate on third downs, but Hope limited the Thunder to 2 of 12 on third downs for the game.
Offensively, Hope piled up 27 first downs, 250 yards rushing and 209 yards passing for 459 yards of total offense.
Opple personally accounted for 312 yards of total offense for the Dutchmen, completing 17 of 28 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns, extending his streak of consecutive passes without an interception to 198 that dated back to last year's game against Trine in Holland. He also rushed for 102 yards on 13 carries.
Houston added 67 yards on the ground on 11 carries, while Anderson had 47 yards on 10 carries.
Cecchini caught four passes for 57 yards and two scores. Senior wide receiver Christian Bos of Hudsonville, Michigan (Unity Christian HS) had four receptions for 47 yards.
Babb and senior linebacker Mason Dekker of Holland, Michigan (West Ottawa HS) led Hope on defense with six tackles each, while senior safety Conner Nemmers of Grand Rapids, Michigan (West Catholic HS) made five stops, including a sack.
Recovering fumbles for Hope were junior defensive end Drew Althouse of Ludington, Michigan (Ludington HS) and sophomore defensive lineman Joe Natoci of Commerce Township, Michigan (Detroit Catholic Central HS).
Hope's last shutout win in an MIAA opener was a 38-0 victory against Alma College in 2010, . The Flying Dutchmen;s 51 points were the most in a conference opener since a 62-7 defeat of Alma in 1999.