McPHERSON – Starting tailback Quincy Sandoval (SO/Salt Lake City, Utah) couldn’t play because of an injury and McPherson’s Kansas Conference-best pass defense was making life difficult for Kansas Wesleyan quarterbacks Isaiah Randalle (JR/Sacramento, Calif.) and Tony Brown (JR/Austin, Texas).
Needing an offensive spark, the Coyotes turned to a newbie to save the day and Christopher “C.J.” Fluker was more equal to the task.
Fluker, the back-up tailback, ran for 155 yards on 34 carries and three touchdowns, and the defense and special teams also produced scores as Wesleyan rallied for a 41-27 victory over McPherson at McPherson Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The loss ended a two-game losing streak and raised the Coyotes’ record to 4-2 overall, 3-2 in the KCAC. McPherson fell to 3-4 overall and the conference.
Fluker, who entered the game with 114 yards on 16 carries through the first five games, broke loose in the second half Saturday, gaining 101 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns.
His third TD, a 5-yard run, came with 51 seconds left in the game and sealed the victory. He also scored on a 10-yard run late in the third quarter that gave the Coyotes a 28-27 lead, and he accounted for their first points of the day on a 1-yard run on the second play of the second quarter.
An apparent 56-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter was nullified by a penalty.
“C.J. was remarkable in his first start, he did an outstanding job and I’m very proud of him,” KWU coach Myers Hendrickson said. “I think it’s also a product of the way our offensive line played. They were outstanding and very physical.”
Fluker’s effort took some pressure off Randalle and Brown, who were a combined 11 of 17 passing for 164 yards and a touchdown that came on Randalle’s 51-yard strike to Eren Jenkins (SR/Chicago, Ill.) on the second play of the second half.
Wesleyan’s defense was equally stellar.
After difficult outings against Southwestern and Avila the Coyotes bounced back in the second half Saturday. McPherson quarterback Trent Graves, a freshman, threw for 168 yards and two touchdowns the first half, but managed just 82 yards in the second. He was sacked four times and intercepted three times – twice by Scott Helsper (SR/Coeur D’Alene, Idaho) in the fourth quarter.
Graves finished 29 of 40 for 250 yards and three touchdowns, but KWU’s defense rendered the Bulldogs’ offense one-dimensional by stuffing their ground game – 59 yards on 21 carries.
“The D-line played great,” Hendrickson said. “It all starts up front, they played in the (McPherson) backfield, they got great penetration and were getting to the quarterback and getting sacks. We put pressure on the QB and that’s exactly what we wanted to do and force him into some interceptions. Scott Helsper was all over the field.”
The biggest defensive play of the day came late in the third quarter. Leading 28-27 after Fluker’s run, linebacker Zyair Velazquez (SR/San Diego, Calif.) jarred the ball loose from David MacMahon after a pass reception on the Bulldogs’ first play. Velazquez scooped up the loose ball and ran 34 yards for a touchdown, making it 34-27.
“That was huge,” Hendrickson said. “It was another huge momentum play, like the special teams play. Zyair made a great play, he forced the fumble and was able to take it all the way in for a touchdown. That’s a game changer.”
Helsper had a team-best 10 tackles – six solo – while Velazquez had nine tackles. Chris Scott (FR/Chicago, Ill.) recorded two tackles for loss.
The special teams’ touchdown was special and timely. KWU appeared to be in trouble midway through the second quarter following Graves’ 2-yard touchdown pass to MacMahon that gave McPherson a 21-7 lead.
But Drevon Macon (JR/Compton, Calif.) quickly stifled the celebratory mood by returning the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown just 15 seconds later.
“We needed a big play and that’s what we got,” Hendrickson said. “The play itself, I think, is a good representation of how we keep battling in all three phases. It’s 21-7 and we get a special teams score. And in the third quarter we get 20 points and one of those touchdowns was a defensive score. That’s just the type of game that we play.”
The victory was a much-needed boost for the Coyotes, according to their coach.
“Playing a conference opponent on the road we definitely wanted to get this win,” Hendrickson said. “We’ve definitely been working hard for it so we can get the momentum back, which is exactly what we did.”
The Coyotes have next Saturday off then play Ottawa on November 14, at Graves Family Sports Complex in their final game of the fall portion of the schedule. They’re slated to resume play against Sterling on March 6, 2021, at GFSC. Road games at Bethel, Tabor and Saint Mary are scheduled the next three weekends.