ANGOLA – A 23-point deficit against in-state NCAA Division III rival Trine University was anything but that Thursday for the Manchester University Spartans.

Glancing quickly at the football game’s final statistics after the smoke settled at Fred Zollner Athletic Field in a 35-12 Thunder victory, one could see a nip-and-tuck battle playing out.

The home side held a slim 17-15 first down edge; the visiting Spartans out-passed the hosts by a 180-133 count; and Manchester held an edge in time of possession (30:40-29:20) among many noticeable figures.

Those stats were enough to leave Manchester head coach Nate Jensen lamenting what could have been.

“We’ve talked all offseason about finishing drives and games … we didn’t do that (tonight),” he said. “I know I’m frustrated. There were so many chances left on the field.

“We didn’t play up to our potential – giving up too many big plays, including a punt return for a touchdown for the first time since I can remember, and not tackling as examples. Now, it’s time to focus on working to better those things and getting ready for Alma.”

The Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Thunder got their home crowd to its feet the first time they touched ball. After holding the Spartans near midfield, Marcus Winters gathered a punt, broke through the front line quickly and danced down the field 85 yards for a score.

Manchester’s offense, as it did throughout the picture-postcard evening, methodically worked its way down the turf on its next drive but was stopped on downs at the Trine 26. The home side, taking advantage of some key pass plays, marched seven plays in 74 yards for a second touchdown and a quick 14-0 lead.

The Spartans chipped away at the deficit in the second half with a pair of scores. A nifty halfback pass from senior wide receiver Dakota Nelson to classmate Bailey Partington went for 37 yards and a touchdown, while Partington figured into a late first-half drive for six, gathering in a catch from the arm of sophomore quarterback Alex Downard that went from Trine’s 43 to the three-yard line.

The next play saw Nelson’s athletic abilities showcased as he leaped in the far corner and pulled down a spectacular catch for the touchdown to cut the lead to 21-12.

The second 30 minutes saw the home team defense halt the Spartans, surrendering just one drive of five-or-more plays. Meanwhile, Trine added two more touchdowns to enable the 35-12 final.

Partington and Downard topped the statistics for Jensen’s offense. Downard finished 13 of 25 for 143 yards, with Partington hauling in four of them for 93 yards.

Sophomore Donovan Henderson Jr. was the rushing attack workhorse with 16 carries for 38 yards, including several attempts that saw him just a shoelace grab away from more.

Defensively, senior linebacker Jack Kay picked up where he left off a year ago with nine tackles, joining sophomore defensive back De’Lon Barnes and junior defensive lineman Jacob Cooper with similar numbers. Junior defensive back Austin Coughlin added his name to the stats with an interception.

Manchester University is in action again Sept. 9. Kickoff at Alma College’s Bahlke Field is 6 p.m.

NOTES: Downard’s night marked his second 100-yard-plus passing effort and moved him just 58 yards shy of 1,000 for his career … Partington’s totals were a single-game career high for the senior.