BOURBONNAIS, Ill. - In a game that seemingly had it all, the Olivet Nazarene University football team put on quite a show against Trinity International University (Ill.), pulling out a 41-39 last second win in front of a Homecoming weekend crowd at Ward Field. The victory came as junior kicker Andrew Muzljakovich (Vicksburg, Mich.) nailed a 42-yard field goal with one second remaining. The kick gave the Tigers their second straight win and first in league play.
ONU (3-7, 1-5) deployed a number of young weapons early in the game to establish a lead. Freshman quarterback Zach Gross (Elgin, Ill.) received his first career start, he finished the day with 159 rushing yards on 15 carries, 100 passing yards, and two touchdowns on the ground. On one play, he took a simple option play and broke it down the sideline for a 55 yard touchdown run, giving Olivet a 17-3 lead in the first quarter.
Olivet's pass defense did a tremendous job in the first half containing the NAIA's leading receiver, TIU’s (3-7, 0-4) Daniel Beals. He caught only one catch for nine yards in the first two quarters of play. There were two key interceptions in first half that helped the Tigers establish a large first half lead.
Trailing 7-3, the Trojans threw it deep where junior Ben Backstrom (Chicago, Ill.) intercepted the ball, which led to a Muzljakovich 29-yard field goal and a 10-3 Tiger lead. Backstrom struck again in the second quarter, this time in TIU's territory, picking off a pass and returning it to the Trojan 25. Sophomore quarterback Rico Prestia (Elk Grove Village, Ill.) capped off the possession with a 21-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Tyler Swindle (Lindenhurst, Ill.), extending the lead to 31-16 at the half.
The largest lead of the game came in the third quarter as the Tigers ran a reverse. Instead of continuing the run, freshman Aaron Salas (San Marcos, Calif.) eyed a wide open Swindle down the field and threw it into the end zone for a touchdown. Swindle finished the day with four catches, two of them touchdowns, and 106 yards receiving.
The Trojans did not go quietly striking back in the fourth quarter. After their starting quarterback left the game with an ankle injury, backup Rueben Pena came in and threw touchdown passes of 29, 91, and 84 yards, the last two going to Beals, which gave TIU a 39-38 lead with just one minute remaining.
However, with just over a minute remaining the Tigers only needed a field goal to win. Olivet drove down the field and Muzljakovich kicked the game winning field goal.
Defensively, the Tigers were led by sophomore linebacker Brandon Ruemler (Williamsport, Ind.) who finished the day with 10 tackles, one for a loss, and an interception. On offense, Freshman M.J. Green ran for 91 yards and a touchdown. For TIU, Pena was 6 of 7 passing for 219 yards and three touchdowns; Beals had five catches for 223 yards and two touchdowns.
The Tigers finish regular season play next Saturday, November 10 on the road against Taylor University (Ind.), starting at 1 p.m. (EST).