NEW ULM - One week after giving up 580 yards of total offense in a 56-54 loss to Maranatha Baptist College, the Martin Luther College defense had a pretty busy week of tough practices to make sure the same thing didn't happen again.
And as Saturday's game went along, the MLC defense was getting more and more confident as the Knights' offense continued to put points on the board. The defense made some big stops when needed, including a 62-yard touchdown off of an interception by Colin Paustian that put the Knights up 26-21 in the third quarter.
MLC hung on in yet another wild one, but this one gave the defense some much-needed confidence in a 40-34 Upper Midwest Athletic Conference win over MacMurray College.
For the Knights, it was a good day on both sides of the ball. The offense was led by sophomore quarterback Luke Rothe and sophomore running back Booker Ruggs.
Rothe passed for 132 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 119 more and two more scores.
Ruggs had a career day, finishing with 194 yards on 27 carries on the ground and two rushing touchdowns.
Not to be outdone, the defense got 18 tackles from Nick Kressin at the linebacker position. Benjamin Hansen made 14 stops while Jacob Brohn and Thomas Keller each had 10 tackles. Ben Ewings had nine tackles and a sack and Paustian had the big interception.
"This is the first time I've been on this team and gotten a victory at home," Kressin said. "We had an excellent week of practice, the defense improved by leaps and bounds and we kept it simple this week.
"We kept it simple, and everybody knew their responsibility and that's what led to this," Kressin said.
Kressin's big game on the defensive side may have only been overshadowed by his offensive teammates Rothe and Ruggs. Ruggs was able to keep several drives alive with some big runs and he was really happy with the end result on Saturday.
"It was really hard, they kept coming and we kept coming harder," Ruggs said.
Rothe was able to make some big plays with his feet and his arm. His athleticism was tough for the Highlanders to stop.
"Luke Rothe is a completely different animal at quarterback," Kressin said. "You just know that he can run this team by himself and he's fantastic in that way. It was nice this week to not be on the field as long as we were last week. I felt like I could put in 100 percent the entire way down. It was fantastic."
The Knights scored the first points of the game on Ruggs' first rushing touchdown, a 17-yard run, that put MLC up 6-0 after the failed two-point conversion. MacMurray answered with a Phil Lockhart 1-yard run to put the Highlanders up 7-6 after the first quarter.
The Knights scored twice in the second quarter and took a 20-14 lead into halftime. Rothe ran in from four yards out and Ruggs scored on an 8-yard run. The MLC touchdowns sandwiched a MacMurray touchdown with 4:31 left in the first half.
The Knights knew that this game was probably going to be another high-scoring one, and they were ready for the challenge.
"We were expecting it,"?Ruggs said.?"The offense came out and we're gonna score always. On defense, we're progressing and we did a whole lot better than we did last week. I give a lot of credit to my line though, they did an awesome job tonight and they made holes for me."
MacMurray re-took the lead on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Caleb Horvath to Kevin Cherry, putting the Highlanders ahead 21-20 with 12:57 left in the third quarter. But the lead didn't last long. With MacMurray threatening again, Paustian picked off a pass and went in for an easy touchdown as the Knights went ahead.
MacMurray responded with a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown to give the Highlanders a 28-26 lead with 7:08 left in the third quarter.
However, that was the last lead for MacMurray as Rothe's second rushing touchdown put the Knights up 32-28. A Rothe pass to Micah Plocher made it 40-28 before MacMurray answered with a late touchdown.
Horvath finished the game with 359 yards passing and three touchdowns for the Highlanders. Zach Mudd was his favorite target, hauling in nine passes for 129 yards. Cherry had eight receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown. and Damon Byrd had 70 yards receiving.
Dervon Francis had 91 yards rushing and Lockhart had 63 yards rushing and a touchdown for the Highlanders. Samuel Stanton led the defensive effort with 13 tackles and Cliff Peterson was right behind him with 12 stops.
Plocher led the MLC receivers with 59 yards and Daniel Rodewald had three catches for 31 yards.
The Highlanders finished with 486 yards of total offense compared to 435 for the Knights.
MLC (1-1, 1-0 UMAC) hosts Northwestern at 1 p.m. Saturday.
MacMurray 7 7 14 6 - 34
MLC 6 14 6 14 - 40
MLC: Ruggs 17-yd run (2-point conv. failed)
MAC: Lockhart 1-yd run (Hosta PAT).
MLC: Rothe 4-yd run (2-point conv. failed)
MAC: Horvath 10-yard rec. (Hosta PAT).
MLC: Ruggs 8-yd run (Ruggs 2-point conv.)
MAC: Cherry 31-yd rec. (Hosta PAT)
MLC: Paustian 62-yd. Int. (2-point conv. failed)
MAC: McKinne 32-yard (Hosta PAT)
MLC: Rothe 1-yd run (2-point conv. failed)
MLC: Plocher 8-yd. rec. (Rathje rec. 2-point conv.)
MAC: Birch 6-yd rec. (PAT failed)