Breaking News
More () »

Hope holds on to defeat Mount St. Joseph 40-35

Hope snapped Mount St. Joseph's 14-game, regular-season winning streak that dates back to the finale of the 2021 season.

HOLLAND, Michigan — For the second consecutive week, a key play on special teams helped propel the Hope College football team to come-from-behind victory on Saturday afternoon.

A blocked punt with a little more than five minutes remaining set up a go-ahead 2-yard touchdown run by junior running back Chance Strickland of Mason, Michigan (Mason) with 2:03 remaining in the game.

Then Hope's defense held after nationally-ranked Mount St. Joseph University drove into the red zone in the final seconds, and the Flying Dutchmen prevailed, 40-35, in front of an energetic crowd at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium. Hope improved to 2-1 on the season. 

The Lions, who entered the game ranked 24th in the American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division III poll and just outside the top 25 of the d3football.com poll, suffered their first loss in three games this season.

Hope snapped Mount St. Joseph's 14-game, regular-season winning streak that dates back to the finale of the 2021 season.

"That's a signature win around here," head coach Peter Stuursma said after the game. "We hung on to something at the end. We made things interesting before, but that was a huge statement for this program and our guys to have that win. That's a team that went 10-0 and went to the (NCAA Division III) playoffs last year. They beat us last year, so that was a factor in our guys wanting to play very, very well today."

Mount St. Joseph rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to take a 35-34 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run by quarterback Josh Taylor, who accounted for all five of the Lions' touchdowns – three on the ground and two passing. 

Hope forced Mount St. Joseph to punt. Punter Joe Claire bobbled the snap.When he tried to kick the ball, it was blocked by junior linebacker Luke Stewart of Wilmette, Illinois (New Trier) and recovered by junior safety Tyler Stezowski of Holland, Michigan (Hamilton) at the MSJ 25-yard-line.

From there, the Flying Dutchmen turned to Strickland, who was moved from quarterback to running back this season. Strickland carried the ball seven consecutive plays and fought his way into the end zone on the final attempt for a 2-yard touchdown to give Hope the lead. It was Strickland's third rushing touchdown of the game.

"How about the huge blocked punt?" Stuursma said. "Huge blocked punt, (gave us) great field position."

Mount St. Joseph drove to the Hope 10-yard-line in the final 30 seconds. However, the Flying Dutchmen stiffened, forcing two incomplete passes. On fourth down, a bad center snap led to Hope stopping Taylor, and the Flying Dutchmen held on for the win.

For the second week in a row, Hope fell behind in the first quarter 14-0 as MSJ scored on each of its first two possessions. Like last week's 42-28 home win against Loras College (Iowa), the Flying Dutchmen stormed back in a big way in the second quarter.

First, Strickland got Hope on the board with a 5-yard touchdown run, capping a 61-yard drive. Then, the Hope defense forced a turnover that led to a tying touchdown, as junior linebacker Cole Luhmann of Rochester, Michigan (Stoney Creek) intercepted a Taylor pass and returned it 16 yards to the Lions' 24. Five plays later, Strickland scored his second touchdown on a 2-yard plunge to tie the game at 14-14.

Then late in the first half, the Flying Dutchmen struck for two touchdowns in 29 seconds. Freshman quarterback Zach Trainor of Milford, Michigan (Walled Lake Western) faked a handoff to Strickland and powered into the end zone from one yard out to put Hope in the lead. 

Moments later, fifth-year senior Brady Howe of Holland, Michigan (Holland Christian) forced a fumble, and junior safety Sam Cochran of Zeeland, Michigan (Zeeland East) recovered at the MSJ 31.

On the next play, Trainor went deep, and senior wide receiver Grant Holtzer of Okemos, Michigan (Okemos) made a leaping grab in the end zone for his second touchdown in two weeks, and Hope led 28-14 at halftime.

After Mount St. Joseph got a touchdown early in the third quarter, Hope responded with a 46-yard touchdown burst by senior running back Elijah Smith of Hastings, Michigan (Hastings) that put Hope back up by two scores at 34-21.

However, the extra-point kick hit the left upright, leaving the door open for the Lions to eventually regain the lead.

Hope had another strong rushing performance in the game, finishing with 255 yards on 48 attempts for an average of 5.3 yards per carry. 

Smith went over the 100-yard mark for the second straight week with 114 yards on 12 carries, while Strickland pounded out 85 tough yards on 23 carries. Trainor added 57 rushing yards to go along with 104 yards on 7-of-16 passing.

"I thought our offensive line did a great job with the run (blocking). Chance Strickland runs so hard, Elijah Smith runs hard. I thought Zach made some good decisions with the ball. We just kept grinding," Stuursma said.
On the other hand, Hope's defense allowed 516 yards of total offense, yet came up with big plays when needed.

"We gave up over 500 yards in offense, and to step up the way we needed to at the end (was) huge. I mean, huge," Stuursma said.

Defensively, sophomore safety Nick Flegler of DeWitt, Michigan led Hope in tackles with 12, including 10 solo stops. 

Howe and junior linebacker Luke Palmer of Fort Wayne, Indiana (Homestead) each had eight tackles. 

Luhmann had seven stops, including a sack, to go along with his interception. Cochran had three pass breakups to go along with his fumble recovery.

Hope hosts the University of Northwestern (Minnesota) next Saturday in its final non-conference game at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium. Kickoff is at noon.

Before You Leave, Check This Out