Baker falls to William Jewell in season finale
Baker University broke one trend, but couldn't break another as the Wildcats dropped the season finale 27-17 against arch-rival William Jewell Saturday in Liberty, Mo.
The Wildcats had made a late-season habit of falling behind early, but not this time around. Baker led 7-0 in the first quarter after junior transfer quarterback Brian Sheppard hit freshman wide receiver Mark Kabbany with a 34-yard touchdown pass.
That lead didn't last long, as William Jewell came back with 10 points for a 10-7 second-quarter advantage. But, Sheppard connected with standout senior tailback John Reeves on a three-yard strike before halftime for a 14-10 halftime lead, something the Wildcats haven't been used to.
"We had the game under control," said first-year head coach Mike Grossner of the halftime advantage. "But, they scored two touchdowns and we didn't respond."
Jewell used its potent ground game to set up the pair of third-quarter scores that put the game away. The Cardinals have relied on the ground attack all season long and Grossner was concerned about it heading into the finale. He had good reason.
"When you can't stop the run, you're in trouble," he said. "They rushed for 350 yards. They're going to pound the ball, we knew it and they did. In a game like that, possessions are at a premium.
"We felt we played effectively on offense," said Grossner. "We didn't convert one time in the red zone. The game was field position. We started four drives inside the 10-yard-line. You can't ask your offense to drive 90 yards every time. The percentages catch up with you."
The Cardinals had a 24-14 lead going into the fourth quarter. Both teams added field goals in the final frame for the final 27-17 margin. The win evened William Jewell's record to 5-5, while Baker fell to 4-6.
Grossner has put the game and the season behind him and is already working on next year's Wildcats.
"It's a distant memory," he said of Saturday's game. "I've already been to Iowa and back recruiting. We talked to some nice junior college players. They had a couple of bowl games going on up there. It's full speed ahead."
Although the record wasn't what he wanted for the first year, the program took the first steps toward a return to the once strong Wildcat tradition.
"I think there are some positive things we can take from the season," said Grossner. "The offense was good, except for the turnovers. The defense needs an identity.
"It's never good to end the season with four straight losses," he said. "I think our team got better, but our record didn't indicate it. We've got to find ways to win games."
Reeves, an All-American last year, gave Baker fans a game to remember him by. The native of Palestine, Texas, gained 166 yards rushing and also had six receptions for 38 yards and a touchdown.
Reeves almost became Baker's fourth 3,000-yard career rusher in just two seasons, but was slowed by an early season hamstring injury. He finished his career with 2,723 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns, good for fourth on Baker's all-time rushing list.
Senior wide receiver Keenan Ganz of Ozark, Mo., also put his name in the record books. He finished his career with 95 catches for 1,301 yards and six touchdowns, easily claiming the fifth spot on the career receiving yards list.
Sheppard of Destrehan, La., was just six yards shy of a 2,000-yard passing season and finished with 2,153 yards of total offense. An identical senior season would place him second on the all-time passing yards list and just a few yards short of third in total offensive yards.