The University of Indianapolis football team wasn’t seen as a playoff contender entering the 2017 season. Projected to finish fourth in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, their chances of beating Grand Valley State in a Week 1 matchup was highly unlikely.
After all, GVSU is the No. 2 team in the country, returning one of the best quarterbacks in Division II football in addition to last season’s leading rusher.
That didn’t phase Hounds freshman running back Al McKeller one bit.
"Our first goal was no turnovers," McKeller said. "We knew they had an explosive offense, so we knew we couldn't afford any turnovers when we got the ball."
McKeller was right. The Greyhounds turned the ball over twice in the first quarter, and the Lakers offense capitalized. But they didn't turn it over again all night. McKeller went off for 206 yards in his UIndy debut, becoming the first Greyhound running back since 2008 to eclipse the 200-yard mark, as UIndy pulled off a 24-20 upset that surprised just about everyone except the packed student section at Key Stadium.
The Lakers offense had quite a bit of returning star power, so UIndy knew the best case scenario would be to keep the ball out of their hands. Running the ball 55 times will certainly help the cause. Paired with senior back Andrew Walker — who rushed for 105 yards of his own — the Greyhounds didn’t simply run the ball, they ran it well. McKeller averaged 9.8 yards a carry while Walker averaged 5.3.
"Everything we do, we mostly work together," Walker said in regards to his backfield mates. "I love the rotation. I feel like they use us all well. We all have a strong relationship with each other and make ourselves work harder, and go harder everyday."
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Perhaps most impressive was the resiliency of this bunch. GVSU’s Bart Williams converted on those two early turnovers, connecting for two touchdowns in the first quarter. UIndy never waivered. The Greyhounds blocked the extra point on the second touchdown and stopped Marty Carter — who ran for a DII-best 1,908 yards in 2016 — on a pivotal 4th and 1. UIndy scored the next 17 points, giving it a 17-13 lead in the fourth quarter.
It wouldn't be that easy, though. The Lakers didn’t go down without a fight as Williams struck again, putting them back ahead 20-17. But McKellar once again answered the call, breaking off a 51-yard touchdown run, ripping away from tackles, to give the Greyhounds all they needed.
"I had a couple friends from high school talking to me, telling me, 'We need you to do this.' The defense was just saying, 'Give me more, give me more.' They were getting me real excited. I told my offensive line to give me three seconds and we'll get six [points]. Then I got the ball and we made it happen.
"I was really happy for the seniors. Me, as a freshman, I love to play for the seniors. I know that meant a lot to them, knocking the No. 2 [team] off in the home opener of their senior year."
UIndy has 10 days to prepare for its next opponent in Wayne State in Detroit. The Greyhounds then open its GLVC slate against conference-favorite and No. 18-ranked Southwest Baptist.
"I feel like now that we beat the No. 2, nobody else should be able to hang with us," McKeller said. "Like our coaches always tell us. Expect to win, and don't settle for anything less. That's what we did, we executed really well."