Long-awaited Liston victory
A 27-0 victory over Avila University was a landmark win for the Baker University football team for several reasons.
The Wildcats hosted the Eagles Saturday night after many Baldwin City visitors left town because of a soggy Maple Leaf Festival. The rain went away as the Wildcats claimed their 500th win as a program.
The win was also the first by Baker at home this fall. It was the first victory on the new artificial turf at historic Liston Stadium.
"That monkey is off of our back now," coach Mike Grossner said. "We knew our home schedule was going to be tough, but you figure by now we would have a victory. We were the last ones to win on it. That, combined with the 500th win for the program as well as being Maple Leaf weekend, made it a pretty good weekend overall."
One more reason Grossner was happy Saturday night was due in part to the shutout ending a four-game losing skid.
"We needed a win," Grossner said. "When you get on a losing streak, it's just awful and nobody is happy. We knew we weren't as bad as our record indicated. It took a little self pride and hard work from our guys to get a win."
Baker junior and Baldwin High School alumnus Micah Mason agreed with his coach.
"It was good for two reasons," Mason said of the win. "It was nice to get our first win at home and it was good to end that losing streak. Those were the two big reasons it felt really good."
Mason led Baker with 13 tackles, but it was sophomore cornerback Eric Allen that impressed Grossner.
"Defensively, I thought we played exceptionally well," Grossner said. "We took away their passing game. Eric Allen was absolutely great at cornerback. He guarded the No. 1 receiver in the league that was leading the NAIA in receptions and he didn't allow him a catch until the fourth quarter when he got two short ones. He also had two pass breakups and one interception in his performance."
Allen's interception came late in the game when he picked off an Avila pass in the end zone.
The Wildcat defense began the game with a blocked punt for a touchdown. Sophomore Drake Taylor blocked the Eagles' punt and fellow sophomore Spencer Curran returned it for the score. It gave Baker a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
Baker next scored early in the second quarter. An offensive penalty backed Baker up in the red zone, which forced a fourth-down-and-long situation.
"We had a big penalty on the 3-yard line that knocked us back," Grossner said. "We didn't get a first down and we lined up for a field goal. I felt like if we kicked, it might give Avila the advantage for holding us out of the end zone."
The Wildcats lined up for a field goal, but freshman holder Brad Fawcett took the snap and rolled out for a pass. He found sophomore Tylor St. Clair in the end zone for a touchdown.
"There was a sense of relief when I saw the referee's hands go up," Grossner said of the play. "I felt like it really took the wind out of their sails. Any confidence they had kind of went out the door right there, because we were up two scores."
The Wildcats drove down later in the quarter but were slowed up at the goal line. Freshman Mack Brown ran a quarterback sneak to make the score 20-0 before halftime.
Grossner didn't call for a quarterback sneak, because Brown has been battling an injured shoulder. He was just glad the play worked and Brown wasn't injured.
"He's not supposed to quarterback sneak, but he did Saturday night," Grossner said. "He called that one on his own. I was upset at him, but he's a competitor."
On the first possession of the second half, Baker scored its final touchdown when Mason carried the ball for a 3-yard score.
Grossner was very pleased with his offense, especially the running game.
"Offensively, we stayed pretty consistent," Grossner said. "We ran the ball a lot better than we had been. Our offensive line played really well. Richie Bryant played really well. Micah Mason carried the load after that and Drake Taylor also helped a bit. I was pleased with that."
The Wildcats have this week off as a bye, which will be used to rest players and get healthy.
"Hopefully with this off week, we can heal up a bit and get a couple of guys back and then finish the season strong with an opportunity to go .500," said Grossner.
Mason said he wishes the team had a bye week earlier, but he will still take advantage of it.
"I would like it about halfway through the season, but it will be nice to rest up our muscles that have been up all season long," said Mason. "Then we can go into our next game fresh. It will definitely feel good."
Baker has a record of 3-5 with two games left on the schedule. Grossner and Mason both want the team to finish 5-5.
"For the end of the season, we are looking to win our last two and take that momentum into the offseason," said Mason. "Then we can continue to develop those young players that have been playing, but need some more time under their belt."
Baker will next play at 1 p.m. Nov. 4 in Canton, Mo., against Culver-Stockton College. The final game will be at 1 p.m. Nov. 11 at home versus Lindenwood University.