Baker decks Evangel 34-24
Baker University made the most of first-year coach Mike Grossner's debut Saturday night in Liston Stadium. The Wildcats were decked out in new all-orange uniforms and they decked the Evangel Crusaders 34-24.
It was a great way to introduce the "new" Wildcat entourage to the packed house in Liston.
"No doubt about it, it was a great way to open the season," said Grossner, who took over the BU helm in January and has a national junior college title in his resume. "A win is a win and we celebrate them all.
"It was nice, wasn't it?" he said. "It was a lot of fun."
That fun started early, too, as the Wildcats jumped out to a 13-0 first-quarter lead before the sizable crowd had gotten comfortable in its chairs.
The first score came after an eight-play, 75-yard drive. The touchdown came on a 17-yard pass from junior transfer Brian Sheppard to fellow junior Ryan Pitts, who used all of his 6-foot-5 frame to haul in the first scoring strike of the season.
Baker made it 13-0 just before the end of the first quarter with an old standby. Senior John Reeves, a 5-11, 215-pounder from Palestine, Texas, capped this drive with a two-yard run. Reeves, who was doubtful to play because of a hamstring injury suffered during a preseason scrimmage, shook off the injury and showed some of the form that gained him All-American honors last year and a place in the BU record books.
The Wildcat faithful were going wild with the sudden lead. But, it didn't last long. Evangel answered with 17 straight points to take a 17-13 lead with just minutes remaining in the half.
However, that was the last time Baker would trail. On their next possession, the Wildcats regained the lead with a 41-yards scoring scamper by Seth Williams, a 6-0, 204-pound sophomore from Grain Valley, Mo. Brian Drawdy, a sophomore kicker from St. Mary's, Ga., added the conversion and Baker was up 20-17 at halftime.
"I'm proud of the kids," said Grossner. "They responded to adversity, which is something we wanted to have as a coaching staff. To get the touchdown before halftime helped us immensely."
Baker put the game away with 14 unanswered second-half points. Reeves got the first score on an eight-yard run. Sheppard, a 5-11, 181-pounder who transferred from Southeastern Louisiana University and whose father is quarterback coach for the New Orleans Saints, hit Pitts with another scoring strike, this one covering 28 yards. Drawdy added the kick for the last of Baker's 34 points.
Evangel got the final points of the night late in the fourth quarter with a 92-yard punt return. But, Baker had the win.
"We had some special teams problems, but offensively and defensively I was pleased with how our kids played," he said. "On defense, I thought we reacted well. We didn't always tackle well. And there were the special teams problems, but we can work those out.
"I was most proud that we played hard," said Grossner.
The defense held the potent Evangel offense to 301 total yards, 115 on the ground and 186 through the air. The Wildcats also forced a pair of turnovers, an interception and a fumble. Luke Thompson, a 6-3, 226-pound senior from Olathe, led the Wildcats in tackling with four unassisted tackles and seven assists.
On the offensive side, BU gained 152 yards on the ground, 328 through the air for a total of 480. Reeves was the leading rusher with 14 carries for 81 yards. Williams had 69 yards on eight carries and Baldwin City freshman Micah Mason made his college debut with 21 carries on just five totes.
"We were a little short with John (Reeves) being hurt in camp," said Grossner. "But he gave us all he could. Seth Williams and Micah Mason helped out a lot. Seth had the big run and Micah gained some big yards after being hit that I think inspired the team."
Sheppard ended the night with 21 completions in 34 attempts, a pair of interceptions and the 328 yards. PItts caught eight of those passes for 125 yards and Keenan Ganz, a 6-2, 179-pound senior from Ozark, Mo., and last year's leading receiver, wasn't too far behind with 125 yards on just four catches.
"Sheppard had a good game and the wide receivers, Ryan Pitts and Keenan Ganz, had big games, too," he said.
Next up for the new-look Wildcats will be a road trip to Central Methodist Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. game. Central Methodist beat Avila 7-6 last week, so both teams will have 1-0 Heart of America Athletic Conference records going into the game.
"They're going to be a tough opponent," said Grossner. "It's our first road trip and they're tough on defense and they ran the ball well against Avila. They play hard on defense. On offense, they have a quarterback that can run well and a tailback that can, too.
"Our kids will have to put the big win behind them and got the next one and get after it," he said.