The Baker Orange

Wildcats knock off No. 6 Grand View in football opener

Story by Chad Mullens, Writer

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The No. 15 Baker Wildcat football team found familiarity while preparing for a game with new faces, new jersey numbers for familiar faces, and new black-and-white BU uniforms — all while facing a new conference opponent in Grand View University.

With a 20-13 lead over the Vikings with nine seconds to go in the game, Baker sophomore punter Jacob Tompkins ran the ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety. It reduced the Wildcat lead from seven points to five, but eliminated any chance for the Grand View offense to come back onto the field. A multi-lateral return of the following kickoff came dangerously close to working for the nationally sixth-ranked Vikings, but the Wildcats ended up falling on a loose ball to end the game.

“We went through so many situations in practice, and some coaches think we’re crazy for doing all these things, but you don’t want your guys to be in a surprised atmosphere,” head coach Mike Grossner said. “Like the punter running out for a safety, we did that, and the squib kick after the safety. Now we have to take care of that ESPN highlight play after the kick, making sure we take the right angles.”

Going into the home of the 2013 NAIA national champions was no small task for junior Nick Marra. He marked his calendar for Aug. 29, anticipating an important opener for both him and the Wildcat team.

“We’ve been waiting for this one for a long time, ever since the schedule got released,” Marra said.

Explosive plays on both sides of the ball set the tone for the opening game of the 2015 season. In the first quarter, Junior Damon Nolan put the Wildcats on the board with a 71-yard punt return touchdown.

“If you watched him in junior college, that’s why we got him as a return guy,” Grossner said. “And his first opportunity was lights out.”

Grossner believes that play inspired the team.

“Now they’re saying, ‘OK, we’re here. We have some guys that can go the distance,’” Grossner said.

Other big plays by the Wildcat offense came off of a 50-yard touchdown pass from Marra to sophomore Ladai Shawn Boose and a 79-yard run by junior Dalton Buehler, who led the Wildcats in rushing. Boose had the highest receiving total of his career, racking up 129 yards on five catches.

“He had a great game. He’s a great playmaker,” Marra said of Boose. “He was nursing a little hamstring injury in camp, but he had a great week of practice and came out and played great.”

A 54-yard field goal by Clarence Clark gave the Wildcats a 17-3 lead heading into halftime.

“I thought in the second quarter we took total control,” Grossner said. “But I wish we would have gotten some more points late in the half, because that really would have taken Grand View out of the ballgame.”

Marra credited the defense for closing out the win.

“We kept saying come out strong for their finish,” Marra said. “We made some mistakes toward the end, but our defense is awesome and won us the game.”

Two offensive mistakes came in the fourth quarter, when Marra threw an interception and lost a fumble in Baker territory. Still, Grossner believed in the passing game, as well as his defense.

“Our defense is good enough to where we can be aggressive with the ball, and they showed that late in this game,” he said.

Grand View quarterback Derek Fulton was credited with 28 carries for 82 yards, six of those attempts being sacks. Junior Nick Becker and sophomore Josh Kock led the Baker defense with 1.5 sacks each.

“Our defensive line made it hard for him to stay in the pocket,” freshman safety Hayden Jenkins said. “We knew we would have to go out and make plays, but we prepared well.”

Still, Fulton used his legs late in the game to keep the Vikings within striking distance. He scrambled for a 29-yard touchdown with 8:43 remaining to close the gap to 20-13.

The defense made the biggest plays of the second half with two red-zone interceptions in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory for the Wildcats. Jenkins picked off a Grand View pass on the goal line with a little more than one minute remaining.

“We talked about defending our end zone,” Grossner said. “They might get some plays here and there, but once they got close to the end zone our kids did a great job.”

The next task for the 1-0 Baker Wildcats will be taking on the 0-1 Culver-Stockton College Wildcats, who gave up 80 points to MidAmerica Nazarene University on Saturday. Baker and Culver-Stockton kickoff at noon Saturday in Canton, Missouri. Baker lost 38-24 to Culver-Stockton last season.

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