BEAL CITY – McBain held off host Beal City twice inside the 10-yard line in the final minutes to secure a tense 23-19 Highland Conference victory on Friday.
The Ramblers (4-0) remained unbeaten and handed the Aggies (3-1) their first defeat. It gives McBain the de facto Highland title as the Ramblers finish league play unbeaten. Beal City and Houghton Lake each have one league loss but not every team is playing each other in the pandemic-shortened season.
Two big fourth-down defensive stops on the Aggies’ final two drives, one on a tackle by sophomore safety Kalvin McGillis at the 6-yard line and the other a deflected pass at the goal-line by linebacker Dan Rodenbaugh on the final play of the game clinched the victory.
“It was a hard-hitting battle,‘ McBain coach Pat Maloney. “Our guys had their backs against the wall and faced adversity for the first time this year and they responded to the challenge. We played some great team defense and fought our way through it.‘
McBain trailed 13-0 midway through the second quarter but rallied to score two late touchdowns and take a 14-13 lead into the half. Senior QB Deacon Dodde connected with Austin Eling on a key 26-yard pass to gain a key first down and set up Eling’s 6-yard run for the first Rambler touchdown, and Dodde hooked up with Rodenbaugh for 31 yards for the second score in the final minute of the half. Tristan McIlhinney’s point-after kicks gave McBain a 14-13 edge.
“It was really nice taking that momentum into the second half, especially after we got down 13 points early in the game,‘ Maloney said. “That last touchdown before the half gave us a huge boost of confidence.‘
McIlhinney’s 29-yard field goal, left-footed by the ambidextrous kicker, pushed McBain’s lead to 17-13 heading into the fourth quarter but the Aggies rallied on the following possession to pull ahead 19-17 with five minutes remaining in the contest.
Eling’s 78-yard sprint to paydirt on the first play of the ensuing drive put the Ramblers suddenly on top again, 23-19, and then the Ramblers held off Beal City’s final two drives to clinch things.
On the first drive, Beal City moved inside the 10-yard but Kalvin McGillis’s tackle on a completed fourth-down pass stopped the Aggie receiver just short of the first-down marker, forcing a turnover on downs.
McBain had to punt from deep in its own end, however, and Beal City moved once again into the red zone with the game clock winding down. Rodenbaugh made a key tackle behind the line of scrimmage on third down to force a passing situation on the final play of the game and Rodenbaugh also knocked away the Aggies’ final pass.
Eling generated 104 yards on 10 carries and scored on a run of more than 65 yards for the third straight game. Dodde was 3-of-6 for 60 yards with Rodenbaugh grabbing two for 34 yards and Eling one for 26 yards.
Defensively, Rodenbaugh recorded 15 stops while Carsten Huttenga made seven and Kaiden and Kalvin McGillis each had six tackles.