Baker gambles, turnovers bring victory
A gambling, go-for-it all game plan Saturday night by Baker University football coach Mike Grossner paid off as his Wildcats responded with plenty of big plays to pull out a thrilling 21-17 come-back victory over Missouri Valley.
"Yes, it was an exciting game," said Grossner. "It was a very good football game. That was the game plan going in. We had to do that. Our kicking game is suspect right now.
"Kids get excited when you have a game plan like that and they really responded," he said. "I think we're right where we need to be. We've got confidence and that's what you need. We came back on a good football team. We didn't hit the panic button, like we did the week before."
The Wildcats tried two fake punts, an onside kick, went for it on several fourth-down situations and weren't afraid to put the ball in the air. The atmosphere was contagious, both to the defense and the crowd on hand at Liston Stadium.
Two turnovers by the BU defense played into two fourth-quarter touchdowns that lifted the Wildcats to the victory.
"We should have recovered the onside kick. The ball changed hands on the bottom of the pile, which sometimes happens," he said. "The fake punt was crucial for momentum. We tried a lot of things, which is what we had to do.
"The turnovers were huge and we responded to them with scores," said Grossner.
Missouri Valley had taken a 10-0 first quarter lead. Just before halftime, Baker put a drive together from midfield which was capped by a 17-yard scoring pass from junior quarterback Brian Sheppard to junior wide receiver Ryan Pitts that capped the 13-play march. The extra point failed, however, but Baker had cut the margin to 10-6 and gained some momentum.
But, Missouri Valley responded by opening the second half with a 10 play, 78-yard drive to go up 17-6. From there, the Wildcats mounted their comeback. The defense got it started by stuffing the Vikings and forcing a short punt.
Baker drove the 40 yards in just six plays and Sheppard capped it with a 1-yard keeper just into the fourth quarter. Sheppard then hit senior Luke Thompson in the end zone for the two-point conversion to pull within 17-14.
The defense then turned in its turnovers. First, freshman DJ Carter intercepted a pass and returned it 31 yards. The Vikings held, but Thompson, a 6-3, 226-pound senior from Olathe, forced Missouri Valley's quarterback to fumble and Jeremiah Gress, a 5-10, 205-pound junior from Lawrence, recovered it.
Then it was time for the Sheppard to Pitts connection again. Sheppard, a 5-11, 181-pound junior transfer from Destrehan, La., lofted the ball towards Pitts, who jumped over the Viking defender to pull it in at the 1-yard line. John Reeves, the standout senior running back from Palestine, Texas, scored the winning touchdown on the following play.
Junior transfer Hans Broers from Baldwin City got his first shot at converting an extra-point kick and booted it through the uprights. That put BU up for good at 21-17 with just over eight minutes remaining. The defense made that stand.
Everyone had a hand in the victory, Grossner said. But Sheppard and Reeves came up with big nights after struggling in the previous week's loss to Central Methodist. Sheppard was 12 of 25 for 172 yards and no interceptions after multiple picks the week before. Reeves, a 5-11, 215-pound All-American, churned out 123 yards on 30 carries after only playing the first half the week before.
"He did a nice job," Grossner said of Reeves' work. "It was tough yardage. He wanted the football and we gave it to him.
"Sheppard has a lot of pride," he said. "He knew he needed to do the right things. He told me during practice last week he was going to be more efficient and he was."
Pitts, a 6-5, 196-pounder, had five catches for 74 yards and the score. Keenan Ganz added four catches and 58 yards. Both teams had 174 yards rushing. BU had a slight advantage in passing yards and came out on top in total yards 346-333.
On the defensive side, Baker was led by defensive back Brandon Hubbard who had eight tackles, four of them solo; defensive back Brett Walgren, eight tackles, including three solos; and linebacker Bruce Rogers, also with eight total tackles, seven of which were assists.
The victory moved Baker's record to 2-1 in the Heart of America Athletic Conference, while Missouri Valley fell to 1-2. Next up for the Wildcats defending HAAC champion MidAmerica Nazarene, which is off to a 1-1 start. Baker is tied for second place in the conference, while MidAmerica -- picked by coaches in the preseason to repeat -- is tied for fourth. The game is at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Olathe.
"It's going to be a fun game," Grossner said of the matchup. It will be challenge for us on the road. They know how to win and know how to win at home.
"Our kids will show up and play hard," he said. "It should be a fun one. We're going to battle for 60 minutes."