The Baker Orange

Rivals will collide in County Line Clash

Story by Chad Mullens

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The Baker University football team will start its season Saturday with a familiar foe visiting Liston Stadium.

The No. 15-ranked Wildcats are scheduled to host No. 18 Ottawa University for the fourth annual County Line Clash at 6 p.m.

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“It’s a great rivalry,” head coach Mike Grossner said. “And sometimes with rivalries, emotion has a large influence on the outcome of the game.”

Baker will look for its third straight victory over the Braves, winning 27-20 in last season’s matchup and 41-16 in 2011.

The Wildcats boast a talented group of newcomers. In addition to a freshman class of 43 athletes, they also have a coveted transfer class.

“As far as individual players, Duane Sims has definitely impressed me,” junior Andre Jolly said of the junior transfer from Hutchinson Community College. “He has the length and athletic ability to lock down some some of the best receivers we’ll face.”

Grossner agreed, adding another transfer in the secondary to watch.

“Preston Randolph is a guy I really like, who will play at safety,” Grossner said.

Coming back to the offense will be senior quarterback Jake Morse, who suffered an injury in last year’s County Line Clash. The HAAC’s leading passer in 2011 is prepared to return to form after playing in only seven games in 2012.

“Jake is 100 percent,” Grossner said. “Playing without a brace, he is moving better than he ever has. That’s a testament to his hard work. Jake is such a hard worker.”

Both Jolly and Grossner are also impressed with the depth in the backfield.

“We have a ton of running backs,” Jolly said. “Six to 10 guys could come in and run the ball for us.”

Grossner mentioned that besides last year’s leading rusher senior Dillon Baxter, sophomore Jermaine Broomfield, junior Camren Tornaden, junior Scott Meyer and freshman Adonis Powell could make an impact for the Wildcats.

“We also can run three deep at the fullback position, but we have a real throwback player starting in Alex Stebbins,” Grossner said. “He’s (6 feet 2 inches tall), 240 (pounds) and loves to hit people, and he’ll really help our running game.”

Ottawa will bring a quick aerial attack on offense, led by 2012 All-American wide receiver Jon Hilliger. Slowing down the game will be key to keep the Braves from lighting up the scoreboard.

“Clock management will be huge for us,” Jolly said. “I think our experience on offense will keep them off the field and keep us fresh on defense, and that’s very important because of their fast-paced offense.”

Grossner added that Ottawa’s quick offense could either be beneficial or challenging for the Wildcats.

“With their no-huddle offense, it can do one of two things,” Grossner said. “First, it can tire out our defense. Second, it can cause a lot of quick three-and-outs, and we’ll get to wear down their defense. It will be an interesting thing to see.”

The most important thing the team has emphasized is excelling fundamentally.

“Watching tape from the last three years, they have pretty much stayed the same, so the big thing with us is to work on fundamentals,” Jolly said.

Grossner also expressed that sentiment, but put an emphasis on special teams.

“One thing that I always worry about in the first game is the special teams,” he said. “We really do not want to make a mistake there, because like I said, rivalry games like this can change just like that.”

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