Alma, Mich. - The Alma College football team won its home opener on Saturday (Sept. 8), 39-33, against Manchester. Alma improves to 1-1 on the year; Manchester falls to 0-2.
Alma led for most of the game but Manchester clawed its way back by the fourth quarter. Down 33-31 with under four minutes to go, junior dual-threat quarterback Mason Ippel (Jenison, Mich. / Jenison) scored what would be the game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion.
Ippel led the Scots in all-purpose yardage — he was 13-of-22 throwing for 136 yards and two touchdowns and added 98 rushing yards on 18 attempts (5.4 yards per carry) and a score on the ground. Sophomore tight end Joseph Schaefer (Lowell, Mich. / Lowell) was Ippel's main target in the game; he caught three passes for 42 yards and both of Ippel's touchdowns. Sophomore running back Steven Sowa (Lincoln Park, Mich. / St. Frances Cabrini) went for 55 yards on nine attempts and a touchdown.
Senior defensive back Alex Szajko (Flint, Mich. / Mt. Morris) once again led the defense in tackles with 11 this week. Senior linebacker Gunner Lamb (Whitehall, Mich. / Whitehall) had 10 and junior defensive back Michael Hallada (Lakeview, Mich. / Lakeview) had nine. Junior defensive back Max Kretzschmar (Marine City, Mich. / Marine City) recorded his second career interception and returned it for his first career touchdown.
Manchester quarterback Bryce Tomasi threw for 256 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on 21-of-36 passing. Running back Donovan Henderson Jr. ran for 187 yards on 31 carries and scored three times. Wide receiver Harrington Greer caught eight passes for 80 yards. Linebacker Justin Thomas had two sacks of Ippel.
- Alma began the scoring on its second possession — it drove 80 yards in a nine play, 4:35 drive. After an 11 yard run by Ippel to get down to the Manchester five-yard-line, Steven Sowa got the Scots into the end zone on the next play.
- Seven plays later on a 3rd & 15 for Manchester, Kretzschmar intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 74 yards to the house to give Alma a 14-0 lead.
- The two teams traded scoreless possessions until Austin Spratling (Grand Rapids, Mich. / Wyoming Kelloggsville) fumbled on Alma's own 20-yard-line. The Spartans, and Henderson, capitalized on the short field. Henderson got the ball three straight times and scored on a one-yard rush to cut Alma's lead in half. This was the first of five straight scoring possessions.
- Alma took 3:29 to respond with a touchdown of its own. At Manchester's 25-yard-line, Ippel shrugged off an unblocked pass rusher, re-set his feet and fired to Schaefer who caught the ball in stride after beating the cornerback.
- Manchester came right back to score on its next possession. Tomasi connected with Keyounis Woods on two 31 yard passes to get from their own 13-yard-line to Alma's 18-yard-line. Tomasi capped the drive with a two-yard fade to Greer on third down after Alma stopped Henderson twice at the line of scrimmage.
- Alma got the ball back with 21 seconds left to go in the half. The Scots began the drive with a trick play that saw three runners roll out to the right while Ippel discreetly handled the ball to sophomore Jarrett Bright (Genesee, Mich. / Genesee) who ran around the left end and drew a 15-yard facemask penalty. Two 11-yard plays got Alma down to Manchester's 24-yard-line, leaving DFGHJ kicker Jacob Plisko (Livonia, Mich. / Livonia Stevenson) one second to hit a 41-yard field goal, which he did. Alma went into the half leading 24-14.
- Manchester scored on its first possession of the second half on three plays — a 25-yard rush by Henderson, a 17-yard pass to Darren Lathrop, and a 34-yard touchdown run by Henderson. Neither team scored on their next five possessions.
- The Spartans took their first lead of the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Tomasi connected with Greer on a five-yard pass to take a 27-24 lead. Manchester went for two after an Alma penalty moved the ball to the one-yard-line, but Henderson's was stopped short of the goal line. This, again, began a scoring run for both teams.
- Bright returned the ensuing kickoff 46 yards to Manchester's 47-yard line. Five straight rushes got Alma down to the six-yard-line where Ippel found Schaefer up the seam after a play-action fake. Plisko's extra point made it 31-27.
- Manchester responded with a 12 play, 65-yard drive that saw Hender score his third touchdown from two yards out to go up by two. Alma blocked the extra point to keep it that way.
- The Scots began their last drive with 3:28 left at their own 39-yard line. They maintained a strong rushing attack behind Ippel and Spratling and got into the red zone with one minute left. A pass to Chase Krueger (Grand Rapids, Mich. / Forest Hills Eastern) brought them to the six-yard-line, setting up the game-winning score. Ippel, in the shotgun with Spratling behind him, ran an option and cut it upfield almost immediately after seeing a hole between the center and right guard. He shook off one tackle and spun around into the end zone with 23 seconds left to take a 37-33 lead. Alma went for two to extend its lead to six, forcing Manchester to convert the extra point should it get into the end zone. On the conversion attempt, Ippel faked a jet sweep to Chase Hinkle (Concord, Mich. / Concord) and run it straight up the middle behind a pulling left guard to score and make it 39-33.
- Manchester got the ball back with 19 seconds left, but it got as far as its own 21-yard-line before attempting a hail mary, which was not answered.
- Manchester outgained Alma 457 to 342 on offense, though this came primarily on an advantage through the air. Manchester had 256 passing yards to Alma's 136. Alma slightly outgained Manchester on the ground 206 to 201.
- Mason Ippel is third in the MIAA in passing yards per game with 209.0 and fourth in touchdowns with four.
- Jacob Plisko's 41-yard field goal was the longest of his career.
- Alex Szajko is third in the conference in tackles per game with 11.5. Gunner Lamb is fifth with 10.0.
- Alma won the time of possession battle, 33:36 to 26:15.
Alma travels to Concordia University Wisconsin next Saturday to play the Falcons at 2:00 p.m. in the MIAA-NACC Challenge Series.