Strong defense not enough as Lions fall to Hornets

Photo provided by Finlandia Athletics Finlandia’s De’Llontae Johnson rolls to his right to look for an open receiver during a game against Kalamazoo Saturday at McAfee Field.

HANCOCK — The learning curve for a football team can often be a steep one. Especially once a team enters a conference like the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

Just how steep was discovered by Finlandia University in Saturday’s Homecoming game versus Kalamazoo College at McAfee Field.

The underdog Lions were holding their own against a well-regarded Hornets team, being down 15-7 midway through the second quarter.

“I thought we played pretty solid football most of the first half,” Finlandia coach Travis Wiltzius said after his team’s 56-7 loss. “But they (Kalamazoo) made some big plays and we committed some costly mistakes.”

Tyler Kangas of the Lions grabbed a nice 22-yard touchdown pass from De’Llontae Johnson to put the locals within the aforementioned 15-7 deficit.

But the Hornets, 5-0 overall on the season, scored two touchdowns in the final 7:08 of the second period to make it a 29-7 game at halftime.

“That was a critical part of the game,” Wiltzius said. “We were playing good football up to then.”

Kalamazoo’s sterling quarterback Zach VanFaussien made key plays on the two drives with his arm and feet. He tossed a 19-yard touchdown pass to wideout Anthony Giovanni on the first score, and set up a 1-yard plunge by tailback Jared Pittman with several key scrambles for the second rally.

VanFaussien was good on 23-of-32 passes for 220 yards and three scores.

The downstate team took their aforementioned early lead on a safety, 23-yard field goal by Greg Kearns and a short scoring pass from VanFaussien to Sam Matthews.

Finlandia’s defense, led by linebacker Dillion Hueckstaedt and Taylor Bonetti, jumped on a pair of fumbles in the first half.

Hueckstaedt put in an outstanding effort with a game-best 10 tackles and 10 assists. The former Baraga High standout also forced two fumbles. Bonetti was just as active, totaling 13 combined tackles.

“Those two guys played a whale of a game,” Wiltzius said. “Dillion and Taylor were all over the place and the rest of the defense had their moments.”

Johnson passed for 127 yards, but was under steady pressure from the Hornets’ defense. Kenny Kujawa caught six passes for 78 yards and did a nice job in the return game.

Kalamazoo made it 36-7 early in the third frame on a 26-yard scoring jaunt by VanFaussien. The Hornets tacked on three scores afterward after some sloppy special team work by the Lions.

“We have some things to work on as far special teams,” Wiltzius said. “It’s all a work in progress for a season.”

Finlandia, 0-5 overall and 0-2 in the league, travels to Hope College on Saturday in another league test.

Kalamazoo 12 17 20 7 – 56

Finlandia 0 7 0 0 – 7

First quarter

KA – Team safety

KA – Kearns 37 FG

Second quarter

KA – Mathews 23 pass from Van Faussien (Kearns kick)

FU – Kangas 22 pass from Johnson (Huibretsge kick)

KA – Giovanni 19 pass from VanFaussien (Kearns kick)

KA – Pittman 1 run (Kearns kick)

Third quarter

KA – VanFaussien 20 run (Kearns kick)

KA – Foster 5 pass from VanFaussien (Kearns kick)

KA – Lang 10 return (Kearns kick)

Fourth quarter

KA – Burke 21 pass from Gaussein (DelRio kick)

Game stats

First downs: KA 31, FU 8; Rushing: 256 (Pittman 18-141); FU 13 (Kostreva 7-11) Passing: KA 23-36-0-235; FU 14-29-1-139; Receiving: KA Padget 5-48; FU Kujawa 5-78; Kangas 3-42.