by Greg Chandler
The Hope College football team remained unbeaten in Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association play with another record-setting performance on Saturday in its first game in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in 30 years.
The Flying Dutchmen scored 58 points in the first half, the most ever by a Hope team in one half, and went on to defeat Finlandia University, 79-12, at McAfee Field in Hancock, Michigan.
The 79 points were the most ever by Hope in an MIAA game, topping the 70 the Flying Dutchmen scored last year in a 70-6 win over Finlandia at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium. It was also the second-highest scoring output in school history, topped only by an 80-6 win over Defiance (Ohio) College on Sept. 14.
Hope, now 3-0 in the MIAA and 5-1 overall, will travel to unbeaten Olivet College, a 34-17 winner on Saturday over Trine (Ind.) University, in a first-place showdown on Saturday, October 26. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.
After the host Lions stung Hope with an 83-yard fleaflicker touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage, the Flying Dutchmen responded with a quick strike of their own, driving 70 yards in just three plays.
Senior quarterback Mason Opple of Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville HS) connected with sophomore wide receiver Dominic Morelli of Troy, Michigan (Berkley HS) for a 21-yard touchdown pass, followed by the extra point by senior placekicker Sam Allbritten of Warsaw, Indiana (Warsaw HS) to give Hope a 7-6 lead just 1:26 into the game.
It was the only completion of the game for Opple, who threw just three passes before being lifted early in the second quarter.
Eighteen seconds later, junior defensive end Drew Althouse of Ludington, Michigan (Ludington HS) sacked Finlandia's quarterback in his own end zone for a safety.
Later in the first quarter, an interception by junior defensive back Chandler Brown of Woodstock, Georgia (Carlton J. Kell HS) set up a short scoring drive, capped off by an 11-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Brandon Anderson of Cassopolis, Michigan (Ross Beatty HS). Brown's pick was the first of seven turnovers forced by Hope in the game.
Before the quarter ended, Hope struck for two more touchdowns, on runs of 12 yards by sophomore running back Kenyea Houston of Chicago, Illinois (Westinghouse Prep) and 70 yards by junior running back Connor Mellon of Adrian, Michigan (Madison HS). Hope led 30-12 after the first 15 minutes of play.
"It was a difficult game atmosphere, but I felt like after the first play, our guys settled in and took care of business," Hope coach Peter Stuursma said.
Houston scored his second TD on a 3-yard run early in the second quarter. Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Finlandia fumbled, and freshman linebacker Adam Gill of Grand Rapids, Michigan (Forest Hills Northern HS) returned the fumble 20 yards for a touchdown.
The Hope defense came up with another scoop-and-score later in the quarter when junior linebacker Jeremiah Purnell of Dorr, Michigan (Wyoming HS) picked up a Finlandia fumble and rambled 45 yards for his first career touchdown.
"I liked the way our special teams were capitalizing on some things. I liked the way our defense put us in some scoring positions. We had guys punching and ripping at the ball, and you've got to have some turnovers," Stuursma said. "We've been very good this year at not turning the ball over. One of the things we've been focusing on is trying to get more takeaways."
Before the half was over, Hope took advantage of another Lions fumble, as freshman running back Bryce Stark of Montague, Michigan (Montague HS) scored his first career touchdown on a 2-yard run. The Dutchmen led 58-12 at the half, with the 58 points topping the previous school record for points in a half of 49 set in last year's game against Finlandia.
The Hope defense picked up its third touchdown of the day in the third quarter when junior defensive back Bryce Jacopec of Davisburg, Michigan (Holly HS) intercepted a pass and returned it 54 yards for the score.
The Flying Dutchmen added two more scores in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Daniel Romano of Royal Oak, Michigan (Shrine Catholic HS) and a 5-yard touchdown run by freshman quarterback Eli Salem of Okemos, Michigan (Okemos HS).
Hope finished the game with 426 yards of total offense, including a season-high 400 yards on the ground in 51 rushing attempts. The Flying Dutchmen threw only five passes in the contest.
Four different Hope running backs rushed for at least 80 yards, led by Houston's 98 yards on eight carries. Freshman Bryce Stark of Montague, Michigan (Montague) added 92 yards on 13 carriers, Mellon had 90 yards on just three carries and Romano 81 yards on 14 attempts.
Defensively, Althouse led Hope with six tackles, including two tackles for loss and a sack. Senior nose guard Daurel Tolbert of Flint, Michigan (Powers Catholic) also had six stops, while Jacopec made five tackles to go along with his interception. Freshman defensive back Brady Howe of Holland, Michigan (Holland Christian HS) had an interception.
Allbritten tied his own school record for most extra points in a game, set in the Defiance game earlier this season, with 11 PATs in 11 attempts. He is now 42 of 45 on extra points this season, just three away from the single season record of 45 PAT record set by Darren Ford in 2017.
It was the first time in school history that Hope scored 50 points or more in three consecutive games and the fourth time the Flying Dutchmen have scored 50 or more this season, another school record. Hope went over 50 points three times last year in wins over Alma, Finlandia and Wisconsin Lutheran.
It was the third time Hope had played a game in the Upper Peninsula. The Flying Dutchmen played a game at Northern Michigan University in Marquette in 1957 and at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, not far from the Finlandia campus, in 1989.