Wildcats narrowly miss football playoffs
With an outside shot at the NAIA playoffs, the Baker University football team finished its season with a blowout victory Saturday.
The Wildcats rolled to a 50-14 victory over Graceland on Saturday in Lamoni, Iowa, to close the football season with a 7-3 overall record and fifth consecutive winning season.
“This is our third year in a row to end the season with a winning streak,” coach Mike Grossner said. “To me, that shows persistence and that they can fight through adversity and keep playing hard. Eventually, it's going to pay off.”
Baker finished the season No. 21 in the NAIA. The playoff bracket includes 16 teams, two of which the Wildcats defeated this season. Baker handed Benedictine and Ottawa one of two losses for each team.
Baker also lost MidAmerica Nazarene by three points after blowing a late lead in the game. The Pioneers are ranked No. 4 in the country.
“We were close to making the playoffs this year,” Grossner said. “We beat two playoffs teams and lost to another by three points. So we know we had it within our grasp. We didn't finish one of those games that was close. If we finish it, we're in it.
“Mathematically, we weren't out,” he said. “A lot of things had to fall our way and they didn't. We wrote our own ticket and we didn't get it done, but I'm proud of the way the guys finished.”
Grossner said he's been a proponent of changing the NAIA playoff for years. He wants the NAIA to go to a 24-team playoff, where the top eight teams have byes during the first round. It's the same format used by NCAA Div. II.
“I would hate to play us in the playoffs,” Grossner said. “Number one, we're healthy and number two, we're hot.”
Baker (6-3 in the Heart of America Athletic Conference) ran the opening kickoff back for a score, but it was called back because of a celebration penalty. Two plays later, the Wildcats threw an interception.
“A lot of momentum changed within 20 seconds of that football game,” Grossner said. “Our players regained it and scored 21 points in the first quarter.”
Baker scored first when Scott Meyer capped a seven-play, 36-yard drive with 8:03 left in the first quarter on a one-yard run. Meyer added another score four minutes later with a two-yard run to finish a seven-play, 56-yard drive.
Xavier Lewis scored on a 10-yard run in the closing seconds of the first quarter to increase Baker’s lead to 21-0. The Wildcats outscored the Yellowjackets 19-0 in the second quarter to take a commanding 40-0 lead at halftime.
“Our coaches sold the fact that we had to start fast, we had to take the ball away from them and we had to play great special teams,” Grossner said. “I thought we did all of those. A lot of things we had been doing all year came together during that last game.”
John Babb had 23 carries for 102 yards to finish the season with a team-high 720 rushing yards. Meyer had 12 carries for 74 yards with two touchdowns against Graceland.
Jake Morse completed seven of 14 passes for 60 yards to finish with 2,060 passing yards for the season.
Baker compiled 351 yards of total offense for the game. Graceland (1-9, 1-8) finished the contest with 173 yards of total offense.
The Wildcats won their final four games of 2011 and have a 35-19 record in the past five seasons.