Baker downs Avila 43-9 to end regular season
His right ear pressed to a cell phone, Baker University football coach Mike Grossner was scoreboard-watching via friends and relatives.
Fifteen or so minutes earlier, the Wildcats had disposed of Avila, 43-9, at Liston Stadium, and Grossner was hoping a couple of dominoes had fallen on Saturday afternoon.
Momentarily, he flipped his cell closed.
“I think we’re in,” Grossner said with a smile. “I think we’re in.”
Specifically, the BU coach felt Lindenwood’s 21-18 victory over Missouri Valley and Sterling’s 17-13 victory over Ottawa were the door-openers for the Wildcats’ first appearance in the NAIA playoffs since 1993.
Nevertheless, Grossner and the Wildcats (8-3) won’t know for sure until the NAIA pairings are announced at 2 p.m. today.
“Hopefully, we’ll get in the playoffs,” Baker running back Richie Bryant said. “I was thinking a couple of days ago that if we won today how difficult it would be waiting for the pairings to come out.”
If Grossner is right, the wait won’t be to learn whether the Wildcats made the playoffs as much as it will be to learn their first-round opponent.
Bryant, who went into Saturday as the NAIA’s leading scorer with 21 touchdowns, tacked on four more scores Saturday — three on short runs and one on a 13-yard pass from quarterback Mack Brown.
Bryant did all that scoring despite compiling so-so numbers. The Heart of America Athletic Conference’s leading rusher gained only 58 yards on 15 carries and added 52 more yards on seven receptions.
“They scouted us well,” Bryant said of the Eagles’ coaching staff. “Their defense was really flowing today.”
At the same time, Baker’s offense might have been guilty of a hangover from last Saturday’s deflating 42-41 double-overtime loss at MidAmerica Nazarene.
“I didn’t like our run game,” Grossner said. “I haven’t said this before all season, but I don’t think we played well up front.”
In fact, even with a 26-3 halftime lead over a team that ranked last in the HAAC in total offense, Grossner wasn’t a happy coach, admitting he raised his voice at halftime.
All in all, Baker more or less just took care of business, winning a game it had to win to put itself in position for a possible playoffs berth.
“We didn’t play the greatest ball game,” Grossner said, “but we did enough to get it done.”
Baker lost defensive tackle Ryan Burns to a knee injury late in the first quarter. Burns was subbing for starter Philip Weinmaster, who suffered an ankle injury in practice this week. Charleston Dela Cruz, a sophomore transfer from North Carolina Central, filled in during the last three quarters.
“I’m worried about tackle,” Grossner said. “We’re awfully thin there right now.”
Notes: Austin DeGraeve blocked a punt that led to Brad Fawcett’s 18-yard TD return in the first quarter … Brown’s lost fumble in the first quarter was only the 11th turnover for the Wildcats. … Avila (3-8) also lost a fumble. … Neither team had an interception. … Tackle Levi Calhoun led the Wildcats with 12 tackles. DB Herb Askew had eight.