NORTH MANCHESTER, Ind. - The defense for Trine University showed what it can do despite returning just four starters from last season, as the Thunder rolled 24-13 over Manchester College. It is the fifth season-opener in a row that Trine has won and improves their regular season unbeaten streak to 19 games.
Just three plays into Manchester's opening drive, sophomore Jordan Hamilton (Churubusco, Ind./Churubusco) intercepted Justin Minnichs' pass and returned it 47 yards for the touchdown. Manchester got the ball back after the kickoff and just four plays in, it was sophomore Myron Puryear (Plymouth, Mich./Canton) intercepting the Spartan pass after it was tipped by senior Brock Reinig (Leo, Ind./Leo) and returned it to the Manchester 10 yard line. From there junior quarterback Ryan Hargraves (Taylor, Mich./Truman) found fellow junior tight end Sean Collins (Fort Wayne, Ind./Northrop) wide open in the end zone with a jump pass as Trine led 14-0 just four minutes into the game.
Manchester would pull within a score Corey Nelson ran in from five yards out with 4:48 left in the first quarter.
The second quarter started in a similar fashion as the first for the defense. This time it was senior Aaron Shoemaker (Onsted, Mich./Onsted) who recovered the Spartan fumble and returned it 27 yards for the score.
Sophomore Tyler Keck (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) rounded out the scored in the first half as he nailed his first career field goal from 37 yards out giving the Thunder a 24-7 lead at halftime.
The second half saw both teams offense run five or fewer plays through the first several series to open the quarter. The third quarter was the only period where neither team could find the end zone.
After Trine opened the final quarter missing on a 4th and 4, Manchester also turned the ball over after an incomplete pass on 4th and 5.
On the first play of the next series, Hargraves was hit hard by Spartan defender Dylin Kennedy who knocked the ball loose allowing Manchester to recover deep in Thunder territory. After a 31-yard play, the Spartans scored two plays later to cut the Trine lead to 11, after a missed extra point.
Trine followed with their longest possession of the game totaling 13 plays for 7:11. However, the end result was a Keck field goal attempt that missed wide left from 35 yards. The Thunder wrapped up the game as Reinig sacked the Spartan quarterback on a 4th and 8 to turn the ball over on downs.
In his first career start, Hargraves earned the victory while going 14-for-21 for 126 yards and a touchdown. Hargraves also ran the ball nine times for 15 yards. On the ground, junior Devin Leas (Poneto, Ind./Southern Wells) led the Thunder with 41 yards on 11 rushes while senior Kent Biller (Nappanee, Ind./Northwood) tallied 37 yards on a game-high 15 attempts. Collins along with fellow juniors Ja Vontae Hence (Elkhart, Ind./Concord) and Will Chrystal (Portage, Mich./Northern) each pulled in three catches. Hence also racked up a game-high 60 yards receiving.
The Thunder held a slim margin in total offense at 242-to-203. Trine ran the ball 46 times for 116 yards compared to 102 yards for the Spartans. Trine also held a 126-to-101 yards in passing. Both sides had double-digit first downs, Trine with 14 and the Spartans with 10. The biggest difference in the game came on turnovers and third downs. Trine forced four turnovers, three interceptions and a fumble recovery. On third down, the Thunder defense held Manchester to 0-for-12 on conversions while Trine was 7-for-17. Manchester was also 0-for-4 on fourth down.
Trine will look to continue their winning ways as they host Bluffton on September 10 for a 1:00 p.m. kickoff.