By Chris Campbell
Southwestern football fought till the bitter end in their season opening loss to Hastings College Saturday evening at Richard L. Jantz Stadium. Despite producing 474 total yards on offense, the Moundbuilders ultimately fell to the Broncos in a 52-35 shootout.
Head coach Brad Griffin is now in his third year under the helm, which has presented himself with the task of bringing Builder football back to prominence. “I like to think we learned a lot from this game,” said Griffin. “Our kids went in with a good attitude and I’m proud of them as far as effort and not giving up goes.” That appeared to be the underlying theme from tonight’s contest. Southwestern began the game by finding themselves down early 14-0. However, the deficit never phased the Builders. “You gotta understand that we’re a young team,” said Griffin. “We remain positive because we still have 10 games ahead of us to look forward to.”
By the end of the first half, the Moundbuilders saw themselves trailing 24-9, but with a chip on their shoulder to build off of. Part of that chip came in large part to Donny Ebanks and his efforts on the receiving end of the spectrum. The junior wide receiver ignited the Builder comeback with 10 receptions good for 128 total yards and one touchdown. “Watching film allowed me to know what the defense was going to give us,” said Ebanks. “When you read up their coverages it really opens up passing routes.” Nonetheless, it’s easy for an opponent to overlook Ebanks by his stature. At only 155 pounds, he doesn’t appear to be the quintessential receiving target. However, looks can be deceiving and his slender frame has allowed him to emerge as a potential weapon for the Moundbuilder offense. “I use my size to my advantage,” said Ebanks. “It allows me to get off man and press coverage easier.”
There were promising signs of a breakthrough as Southwestern held Hastings scoreless for the entirety of the third quarter. Trailing by only one possession, the Builders fought their way back to a 24-16 deficit with 3 minutes and 42 seconds remaining in the third frame. However, the comeback was short lived when the Bronco offense stampeded their way to victory in the fourth quarter by scoring 28 points. Junior running back Tahj Willingham led the Hastings offense with 24 carries good for 118 total yards on the evening. One of which was a 48-yard touchdown run, becoming the decisive blow to Southwestern’s defense. Coach Griffin shared a message with his team at the conclusion of the game. “Basically what we talked about was making improvements, getting better, and becoming a family,” said Griffin. He also emphasized the importance of building a cohesive identity as each day progresses. “If you have a good culture everything else takes care of itself,” said Griffin. “Our goal is that if we’re moving in the right direction each week, then I’ll be pleased.”
Regardless of the outcome, a sense of optimism and pride looms around this young, but determined Moundbuilder program. “We’ve come a long way from last year,” said Ebanks. Senior tight end, Jarad Mora also believes in trusting the process. “Everybody has bought into what Coach Griffin wants us to do,” said Mora. “It’s going to be worth it when it’s all done.” The Builders look forward to their first road test of the 2017 campaign as they take on the Drake Bulldogs in Des Moines, Iowa next Saturday at 6 p.m.
Chris Campbell is a junior majoring in communication. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org