Score: Evangel 31, MidAmerica Nazarene 29
Records: Evangel (5-3, 2-0 Heart); MidAmerica Nazarene (3-5, 0-2 Heart)
Location: Olathe, Kan. | Pioneer Field
OLATHE, Kan. – Holding off a MidAmerica Nazarene fourth-quarter rally the Evangel football team claimed a 31-29 victory for its first win over the Pioneers since 2002.
Evangel built a 31-7 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but MidAmerica Nazarene pulled Homecoming magic to almost complete an improbable comeback thwarted by the Crusaders. The win is also the third straight for the Crusaders and fourth win out of the last five games.
After a blocked Evangel punt went out of the end zone with 6:32 left in the game, MNU pulled within 31-23. The comeback continued after a fumble by MNU gave the Crusaders the ball back, Evangel was forced to punt again.
MNU drove 75-yards to score with exactly one minute left in the game to pull within 31-29. However, the ensuing 2-point conversion was knocked down setting up an on-side kick for the Pioneers. Evangel recovered the on-side kick as the Crusaders kneeled out the victory.
Playing on the MNU campus at the former Pioneer field with temporary bleachers surrounding the field, the Crusaders spoiled a second straight Homecoming after last week's win at Central Methodist. The win was also the first against MNU since 2002 snapping a streak of 14 consecutive wins for the Pioneers against Evangel.
Cameron Hardesty returned and opened the scoring for Evangel after MNU scored on its opening drive. Hardesty found Chance Smith in the end zone to complete a 2-play, 42-yard drive. Hardesty finished 13-of-22 for 158-yards and three touchdowns.
The sophomore's second touchdown came just before halftime when he found Dallas Hester down the sideline for a 26-yard score. Hester got behind the secondary for his fourth score of the season, finishing with three catches for 59-yards.
Despite not finding the end zone, Darrius Lee posted the first 200-yard rushing game for Evangel since 2010 – Tommy Meyer rushed for 207-yards on Oct. 30, 2010, against Avila. Lee carried 23 times for 207-yards setting up the third Evangel score on the first drive of the second half.
Hardesty hit Devin Cochran at the goal line to push the Evangel lead to 21-7 with 10:37 left in the third quarter.
After a 43-yard field goal from Derek Roberts gave the Crusaders a 24-7 lead, Terry Robinson plunged into the end zone with 14:56 left in the game. Robinson's score capped a 4-play 53-yard drive with his 1-yard touchdown coming on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Trey Cooper for MidAmerica Nazarene tossed three touchdown passes including two before the safety to jump-start the Pioneer comeback.
Defensively, Josh Evans and Andrew Poppen led Evangel with nine tackles each. Evans added three tackles for a loss and two sacks to continue to climb the Evangel all-time sacks list. Malachi Cobb also recovered an MNU fumble on a mishandled option to shift the momentum in the second half.
Evangel continues to keep its hopes alive for a South Division title moving to 2-0 in conference play with two of its final three games at home. The winner of both the Heart South and North Divisions receive the league's two automatic bids to the NAIA playoffs.
Evangel returns home next Saturday to host Missouri Valley at Tiger Stadium in Ozark. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
For the latest information on Evangel Athletics, follow the Crusaders on Facebook at Facebook.com/EvangelAthletics or go to www.EvangelAthletics.com. Fans can also receive updates on the team by downloading the Go Evangel Front Row App at EvangelAthletics.com/FrontRow available on Google Play and in the App Store.