Baker-Benedictine showdown is set
There will be an old-fashioned football showdown in Liston Stadium Saturday with two unbeaten and nationally ranked teams squaring off when Baker University plays host to Benedictine. Game time is 1:30 p.m.
Baker boasts a 7-0 record and a No. 15 ranking after last week's hard-fought 19-14 win over Evangel. Benedictine counters with a 7-0 record and a No. 6 ranking after squeezing past Missouri Valley 17-13.
"We are excited about it," said BU coach John Frangoulis of Saturday's game. "We're excited about every game, but it's two good football teams with a lot on the line. A lot of kids never get a chance to play in a game like this. That's why you play the game. We're looking forward to it."
It's not just the football teams that are excited, either. A big crowd is expected for the face-off.
"This game is always important for determining how the conference standings will turn out, but this year means even more with the nationally rankings," said John Fuller, Baker spokesman. "You couldn't ask for anything more it's two great teams with undefeated records and national rankings on the line."
Baker and Benedictine stand atop the Heart of America Athletic Conference standings and that title could very well be decided Saturday as well. The long-standing history of football battles between the schools also lends to the excitement.
"I'm looking forward to this one because it always comes down to the end of the game," said Fuller. "We're off to our best start since 1989. There have been a lot of big games played here since then, but this one will be a great one."
Baker has ridden a rock-solid defense with spurts of great offense to earn its claim as unbeaten. Saturday's victory at Evangel brought another facet of the Wildcat's attack to the forefront as special teams play proved to be the key.
BU's punt return team came up with a blocked punt for a touchdown and a safety on another punt to provide eight points on the night, which proved to be the margin of victory. Standout senior safety Mark Emry was a big part of both plays as he tackled the Evangel punter in the end zone in the first quarter for the safety and blocked the punt in the fourth quarter that turned into a touchdown.
"We call it 'Nuts.' That's when we bring everybody," said Emry of the two big plays on the punt return team. "I love to do that stuff. It's exciting for me. It's fun and it really gets our team up."
Emry, a 5-foot-10, 164-pounder from Peculiar, Mo., is no stranger to blocked kicks, either. He's had four blocks so far this year to go along with three from a year ago.
Teammate Mackie Valentin scooped up the ball in the end zone after Emry's block to score the six points with 7:31 left in the game. Up to that point, Baker was trailing 14-13.
"I just beat the outside guy and blocked it," said Emry.
It was a new script for the Wildcats, but Frangoulis liked it.
"It was a great game," he said. "We played a great team on the road and came up with a big play at the end of the game to win it. We came up with the blocked punt to win it. The special teams played a very big role. That's usually what happens when you have two equal teams."
Baker had started the scoring with special teams early in the first quarter with a 39-yard field goal by Ryan Stewart for a 3-0 lead with 8:23 left. Emry then picked up the safety about five minutes later when he tackled Evangel punter Mike Carter in the end zone to put Baker up 5-0.
Baker's only real offensive showing came three minutes later when senior quarterback Levi Schuck hit Valentin with a 3-yard touchdown pass. Terence Spencer ran in the conversion for the Wildcats to put them up 13-0 with just 44 seconds left in the first quarter.
Just into the second frame, Evangel scored on a 4-yard run by Jason Morrow. With the kick, Baker's lead was slimmed to 13-7. Evangel would get on the board again as the fourth quarter started with an 11-yard pass from Brock Roweton to Demetrius Breedlove. After the kick, Evangel was up 14-13 with 12 minutes remaining.
That set the stage for the Emry-Valentin heroics with the blocked punt for a touchdown that proved to be the difference. BU tried to run for the conversion, but game up short, and had a 19-14 lead with 7:51 to play. The defense made it stick.
It was a defensive struggle, as BU was held to just eight yards on the ground and 204 yards through the air for a total of 212. BU also had four passes intercepted. Evangel had 182 yards rushing and another 154 through the air, but fumbled twice and suffered an interception.
Leading the defensive charge for BU was linebacker Mickey Ramsey who had 24 tackles, seven of which were solo. Carlos Grace chipped in with seven tackles, two for losses, a fumble recovery and two sacks.