“Miracle” was the movie choice for the ride to 17th ranked Monmouth College, through recommendation of Marquis Bradley ’11, and what a fitting choice it was as the team prepared for a real-life adaptation.
“There couldn’t be a better movie to get you pumped up for a game, plus it’s pretty easy to compare Monmouth to the big bad Russians,” Coach Pedersen said.
The sobering statistics leading up to this modern-day David meets Goliath battle spoke for themselves. Grinnell had been cumulatively outscored by Monmouth 170-0 in their past three consecutive games. Grinnell’s last win against Monmouth had been in 2000 and Monmouth hadn’t lost a conference game in three years.
Still, none of this was of concern to the Grinnell squad as they took a different mentality going into this game from years past. “All week we talked about playing fast and putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback and we were able to do that, make them uncomfortable and rush the throw,” Ryan Fletcher ’11 said.
The Pioneers were able to establish a strong defensive game from the very beginning. “After Fletcher tackled and injured their quarterback that put a fire under us and made us believe we could beat them, and so we were like, let’s just go out and do it,” Mike Bogard ’12 said.
The defense was particularly strong throughout the game, which is why they were able to keep a dominant offense to 15 points. Marc Heronemus ’11 made a huge interception after the offense had gone three and out. Then Bradley forced a fumble in the fourth quarter to seal the deal.
The offense also had strong day, beginning with their opening drive. “The first drive we marched down and scored. Plus Bogard on a 4th and 1 decided to fake the punt, running for the first successfully,” Coach Pedersen said. “Scoring on them in the first drive, when we hadn’t scored on them in three years gave us tremendous confidence.”
This game was of particular importance to Monmouth, as it was their 1,000th game in school history. With a win, their coach would have set the best record of any coach in their program, It was also Monmouth’s home season opener. Despite all this, Grinnell was able to play their game and the reaction that they had after winning was one of disbelief.
“I don’t want to say surprise, but when you get shut out by a team three years in a row to beat them like this, it’s just amazing,” Robert Seer ’12 said.
For the seniors on the team it was a feeling of relief and reflection. “The mindset after beating them was it happened. We were in shock. It lifted a lot of weight off of my shoulders and everyone else’s on the team,” Bradley said .
The first-years on the team had a substantially different mindset after the game, which could only result from not knowing Grinnell’s recent history. “The first years have brought some naive attitude, because who’s Monmouth to them? They’re not the team that has beaten us so badly the last three years, they’re just the next team on our schedule,” Pedersen said.
Ultimately, the x-factor between this year’s team to last year’s could be summed up in the attitude and leadership that Coach Pedersen has brought to the program. “We’re a lot more relaxed under Pedersen. When Hawsey was here we couldn’t get calmed down when something went wrong,” Seer said.
The new coach has also dedicated his primary focus to the team’s strengths with the hope of making them even stronger. “Coach Pedersen has tried to take what we have and shape it into the best team possible,” Fletcher said. “We’re not necessarily the biggest team out there but we just try to use our speed and quickness.”
For Coach Pedersen the key to this season has been making the most out of the other six days of the week. “We’ve been focusing on the process more than the individual game, we don’t talk about winning this game or that,” Pedersen said. “We just talk about studying film right, practicing right, lifting weights right, and we’ll just let Saturday take care of itself.”
Despite the amazing victory and momentary residence on cloud nine, the team knows that it’s just another week, and they have a brand new opponent, Ripon, to face on Saturday. “We can’t lose focus because none of us came in wanting to win just two games this year and that’s all we’ve won so far. We can’t dwell too much on the game last week, because that does us no good this week,” Fletcher said.
The Pioneers have been focusing all week on Ripon’s unique offense, which is the Triple Option—they will have two running backs in the slots, usually a team would have their wide receivers in the slots, and then a running back in the backfield. Once the ball is hiked the running backs are all going in different directions, which if done successfully can cause quite a bit of confusion, so the defense must stay disciplined. “It puts a lot of pressure on the defense, they have to be on their assignment, if one guy is out of place they could gash you for a big gain,” Pedersen said.
As for the team’s offense, they will be mainly facing a 3-3 setup with Ripon’s defense. The offense will look to put the pedal to the metal and not have any speed bumps. “In the second half versus Monmouth, we didn’t put as much pressure on them in terms of our offense, so we have to keep pushing,” Bogar said.
The Pioneers face Ripon College at 1 p.m. this Saturday at home, and will play to keep their perfect season intact. “It’s all about who wants it more that day, and I feel like right now, we want it pretty badly,” Bradley said.