By Marcus Fitzsimmons | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Evan Pittenger ran for 115 yards, threw for 269 more and accounted for three Maryville College touchdowns Saturday as the Scots held off Methodist University's second half resurgence to secure a 35-26 USA South victory for a homecoming crowd topping 4,600.
The versatile quarterback picked up where he left off last week at Sewanee with called bootlegs, dives and an occasional creative scramble as Maryville (3-1, 1-0 USAC) got off to its best start since 2007, racing out to an 18-point halftime lead on four touchdowns. It was the fifth — that didn't come until the final moments — that sealed the conference and home opener against a Methodist team that has rarely gone quietly in the series. The Monarchs (2-2, 0-1) gave the length of the field to Maryville out of the break but stopped MC in the shadow of the pines on fourth-and-goal at the 1. MU mounted its rally from that moment cutting the lead to 2 while allowing Maryville just two first downs over the next 25 minutes on the clock.
"It's momentum. It's so hard to capture and so hard to hold on to and sometimes when you lose it you don't know how to get it back," MC coach Mike Rader told The Daily Times as the bagpipes wailed on Victory Hill. "The first half I thought we did a lot of good things. We executed a lot and still left a lot of plays out there. I knew on the fourth-and-1. We had just run Evan to the left and he had his helmet ripped off. I wasn't real excited about running him again out of the time out even though I knew in my heart we should have. They stopped us and it was amazing how the momentum shifted, but we did get it back."
Methodist found its big plays with alert receiver reaction, a quicker pace and the sheer toughness of signal caller Max Reber. The quarterback finished 26-of-41 for 373 yards and netted 38 rushing despite being sacked three times. Reber bought time under pressure to complete drive saving throws time and again in the second half as MU put its no huddle in high gear to keep MC from rotating its defensive front.
"Give a lot of credit to coach Goss and Methodist. That's a very athletic group. That quarterback is one of the better ones in our conference. He's very strong, very fast and can throw it from any angle," Rader said.
Reber connected on throws of 35, 29, 31 and 20 on the move to four different receivers. Vaughn Cross led the way making eight grabs for 153 yards while Blake Scott and Anthony Radke had six each.
"I watched Cross run a post, look and see a lot of guys are there, see Max running, reverse out and made up a route to the sideline and Max escaped the pocket and pressure and threw a dart to him for a first down. What do you do?" Rader said. "Most defenses aren't designed to provide coverage for that long a time."
The Scots rallied themselves in the fourth as the defense forced MU's only punt of the second half after three consecutive scoring drives. Pittenger completed his first two throws then ran for the first down and suddenly the light was back on for Maryville.
"I went to a lot of key players and told them this is what we train for," Rader said of his words that sent the offense on to the field. "I looked at Evan and told him it's time. It's time for you to take this team."
Pittenger's deep pass to Ed Johnson charging down the far sideline went incomplete but a pass interference call for a bump of Johnson back at the 20 was almost as good. Pittenger threw to Trenton Shuler coming out of the backfield and the freshman from Maryville made a miraculous grab, reaching around the defender to make the catch off the shoulder pads despite the flagged interference.
"I really consciously told myself there I have to trust the kids to make plays. I saw Trenton out there and knew I was going to call this play and my coaches were silent on the headset when I did, I knew they were thinking 'he really just called this with a freshman back in there' but it was the play that needed to be called at that time and you have to trust your people," Rader said.
Facing third and long, Ed Johnson brought down Pittenger's 13-yard toss to the right corner of the end zone for his second touchdown despite a third interference penalty for defensive holding of the junior receiver.
"They're in man coverage and we're running out of room. I just put it in the best guys hands and let him make a play," Rader said. "It's hard to say which was better, Trenton's or Ed's. Ed made one of the best catches I've ever seen. Trenton did a fantastic job. The guy is face guarding him and all over him. I don't know how he did it, it was just an unreal catch."
The Scots rolled up almost 300 of their 470 yards off offense in the first half with Travis Felder — 20 carries for 69 yards — capping off a pair of scoring drives. Blake Williams made a series of great grabs to lead MC with six grabs for 122 yards.
Maryville returns to action next week hosting Averett University (1-3, 0-1) in the second MC home game.