Wildcats look strong early, fall 31-27
After jumping out to a quick 14-0 lead, the Baker University football team battled cramps and a dislocated thumb before falling to Benedictine College 31-27 in its season opening game Saturday at Liston Stadium.
"The game started exactly how I thought it would," Baker coach Mike Grossner said. "We planned on trying to get some quick scores, get a halftime lead and then put them away in the second half. The only thing missing in that scenario is we didn't put them away in the second half."
During the first quarter, Brian Sheppard dislocated his right thumb while being tackled by a Benedictine defender.
"We were rolling pretty well, until I dislocated my thumb and things started to slow down," Sheppard said. "After I dislocated it, I ran to the sideline, got it popped back in place and got back out there."
The Wildcats also battled problems with players cramping up during the game. Grossner was afraid of the problem.
"I think we were the better football team," Grossner said. "We had a lot of guys drop on us with cramps. I had a fear of that being a hot, humid night and our hydration. Being young guys, they think they are invincible. I don't care who you are, once your body cramps up, you can't play anymore."
Grossner said four his stars cramped up early in the third quarter, causing problems for the team.
"At one point Micah Mason, Jeremiah Gress, Pete Diaz and Ryan Pitts were out and couldn't perform early in the second half," Grossner said. "We were kind of in a panicked situation the whole third and fourth quarter, because those guys couldn't play and behind them are very young kids who haven't played college football."
Baker kicked off the game with an eight-play drive that ended with a 14-yard touchdown strike from Sheppard to fellow senior Josh Buford.
The Wildcats turned around and scored on 30-yard interception return for a touchdown by junior CJ Boram, giving Baker a 14-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
"I thought CJ Boram played hard, tackled well and was great on special teams," Grossner said. "If I had to give a player of the game, it would have been him."
The two early touchdowns by Baker would not be enough to withstand the powerful rushing attack of the Ravens. Benedictine rushed for 298 yards, while holding Baker to only 25 yards.
The Ravens drove the ball for five minutes, capping it off with a 15-yard rushing touchdown from junior quarterback Wes Tanner to close the lead to 14-7.
A couple possessions later, Baker took back its 14-point lead when Sheppard found freshman receiver James Hensley for a 39-yard touchdown pass.
The Wildcats maintained that lead into halftime, but were never able to get anything going in the second half.
"I don't like to make excuses, but it was one of those nights that really turned on us quickly," Grossner said.
Grossner believes the team could have put the game away with one more big offensive play.
"I thought we got worn down and we didn't respond offensively with a big play," Grossner. "I think it would have taken one more big play to knock them out and, against good teams, you have to do that. We haven't figured that part of it out."
The Ravens added a safety and two touchdowns within the first 11 minutes of the second half, giving them a 24-21 lead. They would score one more touchdown to secure the victory.
Grossner said one punt changed the entire momentum of the game.
"I think the biggest thing was we didn't field a punt," Grossner said. "We made a defensive stop and if we fair catch, we are on our 15, not our one. Then we ran a base play and missed a block and they got us for a safety. Momentum is a big part of football."
Baker did add one touchdown when it took over the ball with :00.1 seconds remaining the game. Sheppard hooked up with junior Brandon Crosby to close the lead.
Grossner knows the team needs to begin putting other teams away when it has the chance instead of letting them creep back.
"We've got to establish ourselves as a team that will finish somebody off," Grossner said. "Since I've been here that's one thing that is kind of a black eye in my mind. We haven't yet decided to do that, for whatever reason."
Sheppard had his thumb examined Tuesday and said nothing is broken and he hopes to play Saturday.
The Wildcats next game is at 6 p.m. Saturday in Lamoni, Iowa, against Graceland University.
"Graceland is very good and they will match us speed for speed," Grossner said. "They are probably a little bigger than us and older. We've got to try and go there and play mistake free and get a win."