Baker wins air battle with Lindenwood
A huge family day crowd for Baker University's home opener didn't go away disappointed Saturday night as the Wildcats posted a 38-21 win over the Lindenwood Lions in a game that featured plenty of airways excitement.
The teams combined to throw 85 passes (58 by Lindenwood), completed 42 (30 by Lindenwood) for 694 yards (439 by Lindenwood) and five touchdowns (most importantly, four by Baker). There were also four interceptions, two by each team, and the game wasn't decided until the last one when Baker's Matt Triplett picked off a pass as Lindenwood was driving and returned it 88 yards for a touchdown to put the game away.
"Boy, that was big," said John Frangoulis, Baker head coach, of the pick that put the game out of reach. "I was able to breathe after that.
"It was a great game, the type of game I anticipated," said Frangoulis. " That's the way we play exciting. Both sides really threw the ball. Offensively, we improved a great deal from the first game. Our quarterback is certainly capable and our receivers are certainly capable of putting up those kinds of numbers."
There was lots of huffing and puffing going on during the aerial show. Baker started its passing assault in the first quarter when senior quarterback Levi Schuck, a 6-foot-1, 209-pound senior from Peoria, Ariz., hit Mackie Valentin, a 5-8, 170-pound senior from Overland Park, with a 45-yard touchdown pass. Brant Brittingham kicked the extra point and Baker had the lead for good.
Lindenwood answered with a pair of field goals by Dante Buscaglia, one from 28 yards out and the other a yard shorter at 27. They came at the end of the first quarter and the start of the second to pull the Lions within one point at 7-6.
"We made enough defensive plays early to stop their drives and hold them to field goals," he said.
Then it was back to the airways for BU. Schuck hit Valentin on a 70-yard scoring bomb just into the second quarter. Schuck followed that with a 20-yard scoring strike to Todd Hitchcock, a 6-0, 170-pound junior transfer from Garden City Community College. Brittingham, a 6-3, 211-pound senior from Rose Hill, added both conversions and closed out the first-half scoring with a 39-yard field goal to put Baker up 24-6.
Lindenwood outscored the Wildcats 9-7 in the third quarter with a touchdown, failed conversion and a field goal. Baker's score came on another long bomb by Schuck, this one covering 71 yards to Hitchcock. At quarter's end, Baker had a 31-15 advantage.
The Lions drew first blood in the fourth quarter on a 10-yard pass from Mike Hofbauer to Mike Wyrick. Despite the Lion aerial assault totaling 439 yards, that was the only touchdown. Baker blocked the extra point kick and kept the score at 31-21.
Lindenwood would threaten again and especially on the drive that produced Triplett's interception and long return for the final nail-driver for the win. Triplett, a 5-11, 162-pound sophomore from St. Louis, was mostly a kick returner for the Wildcats last year, but was switched to cornerback this year.
He used that kick returner speed and instinct to return the pick 88 yards.
"It all surprised me," said Triplett. "It happened so fast at the time I didn't know I had the ball. But after I caught it, I took it to the house. I was just running full speed. I didn't look back."
The victory moved Baker's record to 2-0 on the season and 1-0 in the Heart of America Athletic Conference. Lindenwood fell to 0-4 and 0-2.
Schuck ended the night completing 12 of 27 passes for 255 yards and the four touchdowns. Valentin caught six for 147 and two of the scores, while both of Hitchcock's catches good for 91 yards were touchdowns. Howard Verdell, the Wildcat's 5-9, 188-pound junior running back from Dallas, was practically a one-man rushing attack, picking up 106 of Baker's 108 yards on the ground on 25 carries.
Mark Emry, a 5-10, 164-pound junior defensive back from Peculiar, Mo., led the way on defense with 12 unassisted tackles and a total of 14 stops. He also had an interception that he returned for 32 yards to help set up a Baker score. Mickey Ramsey, a 5-11, 215-pound junior linebacker from Garden City, was close behind with 13 tackles, nine of them solos.
Now all Wildcat thoughts will turn to this week's opponent, Graceland. Baker will travel to Lamoni, Iowa, for the 7 p.m. game Saturday. Last week Graceland beat Missouri Valley 20-12 and stands at 1-1 on the season. Frangoulis knows it will be another close game.
"We need to go up there and get after them," he said. "Basically they'll run the option and roll out pass. Defensively, they'll stay in base. They're a well coached team. We've had trouble with them the last four years. We beat them last year, but it wasn't easy. It never is."