Football rolls CMU, ready for No. 9 Missouri Valley

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

After blowing out Central Methodist 73-26 on Saturday in Fayette, Missouri, the No. 2 Baker Wildcats are 9-0 and in prime position to win the Heart of America Athletic Conference’s South Division. The Wildcats have won 15 consecutive conference games and 19 of their last 20 in Heart play, dating back to the beginning of 2015.

The Wildcats host the No. 9 Missouri Valley Vikings at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Liston Stadium in the team’s second-to-last game of the regular season. The Vikings are 8-1 overall and 3-0 in the Heart South after beating Evangel 51-3 last Saturday. With a Baker win on Saturday, the Wildcats will earn at least a share of the South Division title.

“It has always been a battle, and what a setup for this one,” head coach Mike Grossner said. “You can’t ask for a bigger or better game at our place.”

The Wildcats enter Saturday’s game after an offensive performance of 705 yards against Central Methodist, with 474 through the air and 231 on the ground. Coming off of his fourth Heart Offensive Player of the Week award, junior quarterback Logan Brettell completed his first 12 passes of the game and threw two first half touchdowns to give the Wildcats a 51-0 halftime lead over CMU. Brettell finished the day 31-for-40 passing for 389 yards and three touchdowns.

“Offensively, that was a machine in the first half,” Grossner said.

Senior running back Adonis Powell and junior running back Cornell Brown each rushed for two touchdowns in the first half. The two combined for more than 100 yards in Baker’s running game.

“We’ve got great depth there,” Grossner said. “Cornell (Brown) has been carrying the load, and it’s nice to have Adonis (Powell) back there. We feel really good about what we’ve got going in the backfield.”

Senior Quanzee Johnson led the Wildcats in receiving with 122 yards on seven catches, including a 55-yard touchdown on Baker’s first drive of the second half. Brown caught six passes out of the backfield for 59 yards, junior Clarence Clark caught six passes for 57 yards, and senior Ladai Shawn Boose caught five passes for 53 yards and a touchdown.

The Wildcats rested their starters for most of the second half. Baker’s first-team defense allowed less than 100 yards in the first half and contained CMU’s quarterback Caleb Bedford, who came into the game as the conference’s third-leading passer.

“Our defense did a heck of a job against a great quarterback,” Grossner said. “That kid’s tough.”

Although Baker has been perfect so far, the Wildcats know they can’t overlook Saturday’s massive game against Missouri Valley.

“I love the matchup,” Grossner said. “It’s that time of year and we need a big game like this.”

Baker has won two of its last three matchups with Missouri Valley, with the wins coming on the road in 2013 and 2015. In 2013, the Wildcats won 13-10 in overtime, thanks to a 59-yard field goal from Clarence Clark to send the game into overtime. Then Clark kicked a 52-yard field goal to win the game in the first overtime. Last season Baker pitched a shutout, beating Missouri Valley 26-0 in Marshall, Missouri.

“Last year we sputtered a little, but we played efficient and shut them out at their place,” Grossner said. “It wasn’t pretty at times, and I’m sure this game will be a tough, tough challenge for us.”

Baker lost to Missouri Valley in the final game of the 2014 season. The Vikings played spoiler to Baker, winning 27-24 at Liston Stadium and ending Baker’s chances of reaching the playoffs. The Vikings will have another chance to play spoiler this Saturday in a matchup between Missouri Valley’s top 10 defense and Baker’s No. 1 passing offense. The Wildcats are +21 in turnover margin through eight games, which leads the NAIA.

“It makes us really scary and hard to stop when we have a quarterback that’s efficient and doesn’t turn the ball over,” Grossner said. “When he does, it’s a shock.”

The Vikings are only allowing 124 rushing yards per game, so the Wildcat running game will have to continue to play well to break through against a strong run defense.

“Our tempo is a big factor in our running game,” Grossner said. “If we can push the ball quickly down the field, run or pass, it’s going to open up the run game. You saw (against Central Methodist) that they were dead. We can run it on anybody if we get them tired.”

A win would give the Wildcats a double-digit win total in three of the last four years.

“This team thrives on big games, from what I’ve seen,” Grossner said. “They understand that no matter who you’re playing and what the situation is, you’ve got to put on a show. They get 11 shots to show all that hard work.”