First-ever ACU football game includes 108-yd punt return

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                </div>  Gabriel Jordan has set the bar at a high mark for the new football program at Arizona Christian University…. really high. On Saturday, the freshman wide receiver from Shadow […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Gabriel Jordan has set the bar at a high mark for the new football program at Arizona Christian University…. really high.

On Saturday, the freshman wide receiver from Shadow Ridge High School in Surprise set the school record for punt returns in the opening game of the first-ever football season at the small bible-based college in northeast Phoenix.

It’s a mark that is sure to stand for a long time – and will likely never be equaled.

With less than five minutes left in the first half of the game with Evangel University (Mo.), Jordan chased a punt that had bounced over his head into the end zone and picked it up near the back boundary before deciding to run it out – a decision that no doubt would not have received approval from his head coach, Donnie Yantis.

But the 5’9″ speedster managed to avoid a couple of Evangel would-be tacklers to get back onto the field of play and then headed for the ACU sideline and motored along it virtually untouched in a run that was later determined to have covered 108 yards.  ACU was still behind on the scoreboard, but the run-back closed the scoring gap to 30-16 and, combined with a rushing touchdown by Mike Brown that capped a 77-yard drive just a couple of minutes earlier, gave the 3,561 fans on hand at the Shadow Mountain High School football field in Phoenix renewed hope and a reason to cheer.

The only other ACU points came from a 24-yard field goal by Michael Costello, who earned his own place in the program history books by putting the first-ever points on the board in the second quarter.

Brown and Costello, like Jordan, are local athletes.  Brown is a sophomore who played at Cactus High School in Glendale and then went on to Mesa Community College, while Costello is a junior who gravitated from Northwest Christian to Glendale CC.

Understandably in a new program, they are just a few of the 70 or so in-state players that helped Yantis fill the 101-man roster for the first season of NAIA ball.

Yantis, too, was hired from the local marketplace, although ACU officials had said they would be conducting a nation-wide search.  He was the head coach at Paradise Valley High School for 14 years before accepting the job of building a program from scratch at the college level.

He has a young team this year, laden with freshmen, so he has a foundation to build on.  In addition to the freshman receiver Jordan, his quarterback is also just getting started.  Gerrit Groenewold is a dual-threat  redshirt freshman that showed what he could do against Evangel, rushing 18 times for 55 yards and completing 18-of-32 passes for 170 yards.

And, no surprise, Groenewold is also home-grown.  He graduated from Estrella Foothills High School in Goodyear and attended Arizona Western College, a JUCO program in Yuma, before transferring in to ACU.

Groenewold was pretty much the Firestorm offense, accounting for the lion’s share of the 259 yards of offense they put together.  But Evangel had little trouble almost doubling that effort, using two quarterbacks most of the way that completed four touchdown passes, while the ground game accounted for another TD.  A field goal and safety rounded out the Crusaders’ scoring.

Brown finished the game with 24 yards on six carries for ACU and junior PJ Sparks added 23 yards on six carries.

The Firestorm was too slow getting their offense started and fell behind by 23-3 at the half.  But the second half was a different story, as Evangel finished that half with a slim 17-13 advantage.

There’s still a lingering excitement on the ACU campus from the fact that the game drew the attention of ESPN and even made the Sportscenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Week, thanks to Jordan’s run.

How many schools can say they drew that kind of national attention the first time they fielded a football team?

And for a game they lost, no less.

(Photo: ACU Athletics)