Defensive breakdown leads to Wildcats’ loss
Momentum can rapidly change in football and the Baker University Wildcats found that out first hand Saturday.
Just when it looked like it was in charge of the game, the Wildcats were hit with a big play that set up the game-winning touchdown by Graceland University.
"We had one breakdown on defense which really hurt us in the last three minutes," coach Mike Grossner said.
Baker (1-1) lost to Graceland (2-0) 21-17. It was the first game on the new artificial turf at Liston Stadium.
Down 14-10 in the fourth quarter, Baker took possession of the ball at its own 29-yard line. The Wildcats drove 71 yard in 14 plays to score the go-ahead touchdown.
Junior Micah Mason converted a fourth down attempt near Graceland's end zone. Two plays later, Mason rushed for a 2-yard touchdown run. The extra point by junior Ryan Smith gave Baker the lead, momentum and crowd support.
"We had a nice long drive," Grossner said. "Micah Mason came in and did some great things for us offensively. We felt confident that we wore them down and then we punched it in."
Baker's defense had held Graceland to zero points in the second half, but one pass would change the game.
On Graceland's following drive, the Yellow Jackets connected on a 60-yard pass that gave them a first down inside Baker's 5 yard line. Two plays later, Graceland scored the winning touchdown.
Grossner said the Wildcats' defensive coordinator has nothing to be disappointed about from Saturday's game.
"There are many plays during a football game that can turn it," Grossner said. "You can't just focus on the last. There were other times in that game that we could have taken control and made some plays. We didn't and against good teams, it's going to bite you in the end.
"Coach (Jason) Thoren has nothing to hang his head about," Grossner said. "They (defense) played eight quarters of good defense. One play doesn't measure up to what you have done so far."
After the Yellow Jacket touchdown, Baker began to move the ball downfield, but a Graceland interception closed the door on the game.
"Overall, I think we played well against a very good football team," Grossner said. "I am proud of how hard the guys played. For two weeks in a row, we haven't given up. We have been really persistent. We are getting better."
In the first half, Graceland took an early 7-0 lead. The Yellow Jackets missed a field goal, but a Baker penalty gave them a first down. Graceland then scored two plays later.
Baker came back down and had a chance to tie the game, but dropped a touchdown pass. A field goal by Smith closed the lead to 7-3.
"I thought we had some good drives in the first half," Grossner said. "We missed a rather long field goal. We had a touchdown pass dropped. If one of those things worked, we are doing well. We only punted twice all night."
Graceland scored a touchdown on its next possession to take a 14-3 lead in the first quarter.
The Wildcats came up just short on a 51-yard field goal attempt, but answered later with a touchdown with 1:49 left in the first half. Freshman Mack Brown found sophomore James Hensley for a 21-yard touchdown reception.
"We went into halftime down 14-10, which was very similar to the week before," Grossner said. "I thought we were moving the ball better offensively and playing great defense."
Both teams' defenses shut down their opponents in the second half until the two final scoring drives.
Baker committed four turnovers in the second half.
"In the second half, we turned the ball over too much," Grossner said. "They were good plays on the defense. One was a mid-air hit. One was the last play of the game. The other two, they did a good job of stripping it out. We still overcame that and took the lead with five minutes left.
"Turnovers are usually going to determine the game," Grossner said. "I can probably count on my hand the number of games in my career where we didn't win the turnover war but we won the game. It's usually a pretty good indication of what the score's going to be at the end."
Grossner said he was disappointed to not win Saturday's game, but he knows the Wildcats may have gotten lucky to win the week before at Benedictine College.
"When you take the lead with five minutes left and our defense had played so well up to that point, you feel confident that you are going to sneak out with another win," Grossner said. "It didn't happen and that's the game of football. Last week, we might have snuck out with one with a goal line stand."
Grossner also said the Graceland game will be forgotten if the Wildcats come out and execute at William Jewell College Saturday.
"I feel really good about our guys," Grossner said. "We had a good day of practice Sunday. Losses always stick in your mind more than wins. The sooner you can put it away and refocus, the better everybody is going to be. We will bounce back. Our kids are resilient. We've just got to come out and get another win."
Baker hasn't beaten Jewell since 1999, which was the same situation as the Benedictine game, before Baker won 17-13. Jewell is undefeated and ranked No. 23 in the country.
"We feel pretty good about the match up," Grossner said. "The rivalry should get our guys going. The opportunity to get back in the win column should get us focused. It's going to be a difficult task at their place."
The Wildcats and Cardinals kick off at 1 p.m. Saturday in Liberty, Mo.