by Alan Babbitt
Senior offensive linemen Noah de Velder and Zach Smith followed the blocks for once instead of delivering them for the Hope College football team. Fittingly, they executed this play design perfectly, too.
The dousing of head coach Peter Stuursma with a bucket of ice water punctuated a chilly but exhilarating Senior Day for the Flying Dutchmen at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium
Hope's historic 42-7 victory against Adrian College in the regular-season finale checked a bevy of boxes:
14th outright MIAA championship and 21st title overall
First perfect MIAA campaign since 2006 and ninth overall
Second nine-win season in team history
Nine-game win streak heading into next week's NCAA Division III playoffs
Winningest senior class in team history with a 32-8 record
"I told our guys, I'll probably say this 20 times, 'I'm so proud of them,'" Stuursma said amid a joyous post-game celebration on the field. "Proud of what they represent. Proud of how they played. Proud of how hard they've worked. Proud of how they represent our institution and the Hope nation across the country. They earned that. They put a stamp on that today."
Photo of Hope President Matthew A. Scogin hoisting the MIAA championship trophy in front of the team by Carol Fritz
With their 471st win all-time, the Flying Dutchmen (9-1 overall, 6-0 MIAA) advance to the NCAA playoffs for the fifth time in team history — and for the first time in 13 years.
The 32-team field is announced on Sunday, November 17 at 5:30 p.m. on ncaa.com.
Hope followed a familiar script to complete MIAA play without a blemish.
The offensive line powered a high-scoring attack with a relentless and yard-churning ground game that also opened room for a few big plays in the passing game. An opportunistic defense caged the opposing Bulldogs, allowing just one third-quarter touchdown while forcing two turnovers.
With blocks from Smith at center, Noah de Velder at left guard, Tim Ivery at left tackle, Brady Anderson at right guard and Brady Eding at right tackle, the Flying Dutchmen outgained Adrian, 531-343, including a 375-98 edge in rushing yards.
Sophomore running back Kenyea Houston of Chicago, Illinois (Westinghouse Prep) blasted his way to a career-high 189 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. He scored on runs of 4 and 61 yards
Junior running back Connor Mellon of Adrian, Michigan (Madison) added 92 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries against the team from his hometown. He closed the scoring with third-quarter touchdown runs of 4 and 14 yards.
Quarterback Mason Opple of Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville) added 47 yards and one score on 13 carries. His 2-yard touchdown plunge in the first quarter gave him 16 on the season and 45 in his career.
Opple moved within four of the team touchdown record held by Brandon Graham (1994-97) and within one of second-place David Booko (2004-07).
Opple connected with senior receiver Christian Bos of Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville HS) on a 46-yard touchdown heave that helped stake the Flying Dutchmen to a 21-0 halftime lead.
Bos now has a career-high five touchdown catches this season and 12 for his career.
Opple has thrown a career-high 16 touchdown passes this season and 42 for his career.
Opple went the entire regular season without committing a turnover. He completed 106-of-155 passes without an interception.
On defense, safety Conner Nemmers topped the Flying Dutchmen with a career-high nine tackles. The senior from Grand Rapids, Michigan (West Catholic) also intercepted his third pass of the season — picking it off near the goal line to thwart a promising drive for the Bulldogs (5-4, 4-3 MIAA).
Senior safety Luke Beckhusen of Coldwater, Michigan (Coldwater) grabbed Hope's second interception of the game and his first this season.