Wildcats roll past Missouri Valley 26-0

Story by Chad Mullens, Writer

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The No. 3 Baker Wildcat football team overcame its lowest offensive output of the season with great defense and special teams to shut out the Missouri Valley College Vikings, 26-0.

“It was hard to watch, but we played real well in two out of three phases, and we came away with a victory on their field,” head coach Mike Grossner said.

Baker’s offensive total of 195 yards was less than half of its average of 429 per game, but it was aided by short fields off of turnovers and special teams prowess. Four minutes into the game, junior Damon Nolan brought back a punt 46 yards for the Wildcats’ first score.

On the ensuing kickoff, freshman Jaylen Rose and senior Alex Stebbins stopped the return deep in MVC territory, and the ensuing Missouri Valley possession ended with a fumble that was returned by junior linebacker Akim Francis to the 1-yard line. Junior quarterback Nick Marra then snuck in from 1 yard out to give the Wildcats an early 14-0 lead.

“Our special teams are really coming on,” Grossner said. “Three weeks ago I thought that if we’re going to run the table, we need to get better there, and Jacob Thompkins has been great and the coverage down the field has been great. Damon has big play ability. Once he gets down the sideline, he can take it all the way.”

Junior Nick Shondell and the Baker defense kept from getting overwhelmed trying to keep the Vikings out of the end zone.

“It’s really important to never get too high or too low through the course of the game,” Shondell said. “So we stayed level-headed and stuck to effort and fundamentals.”

The Baker run defense was once again superb, allowing less than 1 yard per carry and 37 yards total on the day. The Vikings did, however, lose leading rusher Elliot Hawkins to injury, and later lost starting quarterback Jeremy Frye.

“Jakari Johnson is a good player, and him and Hawkins in the same backfield is trouble, but when Hawkins went down, and we knocked the quarterback out of the game as well, it was tough for them,” Grossner said.

That led to the Wildcats allowing a season-low total of 167 yards to the Vikings and getting their first safety of the season in the second quarter. Frye and backup Dominic Hill combined to go 11 of 32 for 130 yards.

Shondell believes the Baker defense’s success is due partially to the camaraderie the team enjoys.

“We’ve built some great relationships on this team, and it’s been a heck of a ride so far, and we don’t plan on it ending anytime soon,” Shondell said.

Once Grossner established that the Wildcat offense did not need to do anything spectacular to win, he adjusted the game plan accordingly.

“We tried not to do anything stupid, because our defense had their number all game,” Grossner said. “There were times where we discussed doing certain things on offense, but they were a high risk for trouble, so we played it safe.”

Marra had his lowest yardage total for a full game of action, going 11 of 23 for 68 yards. This was due to the conservative game plan for the Wildcats, as well as the aggressive pass coverage strategy by the Vikings.

“He was uncomfortable in the pocket,” Grossner said. “He could see the rush most of the game, and when you see the rush, you aren’t looking down the field. There were times where we threw the ball underneath, when we could have thrown over the top. They rushed three and dropped eight most of the day. They weren’t going to let us go deep on them.”

The run offense was not particularly effective, gaining only 127 yards on 49 carries. Sophomore Cornell Brown led the team with 63 yards and had the game’s final score on a 7-yard carry early in the third quarter.

The Vikings had an opportunity to score in the fourth quarter, driving all the way to the Baker 11-yard line before failing a fourth-down conversion.

The 9-1 Wildcats will play in the regular-season finale against Evangel University on Saturday. The Crusaders are 3-7 on the year and will host BU at 1:30 pm in Springfield Missouri.