Baker coach Mike Grossner looked over the stat sheet after Saturday night’s NAIA championship game.
Name the offensive category, and the Wildcats were almost equal or better than No. 4-ranked St. Francis (Ind.) from yards to first downs.
But Grossner’s offense, which featured the NAIA’s top passing game with 5,000-yard passer Logan Brettell, was plagued by issues not obvious on a quick glance of the stat sheet. Penalties, missed opportunities and pressure on Brettell choked off an offense that averaged almost 50 points a game and led to a 38-17 defeat at Municipal Stadium, ending No. 2 Baker’s bid for its first team national title in any sport.
“I was looking at the sheet, and we threw the ball 50 times and only had 263 yards passing,” Grossner said. “That tells you a lot where the ball was going. It’s going short and they were rallying and tackling. That’s the key to the game, that we couldn’t get the ball vertical.”
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The 263 yards is more telling because Brettell, the Blue Valley graduate who was named the NAIA Player of the Year on Friday, was part of a passing attack that averaged nearly 370 yards a game. But Grossner said he didn’t want Brettell, who was sacked five times, constantly getting beat up by the Cougars.
“There were a couple of plays where we had touchdowns ready,” said running back Cornell Brown, who had with 103 yards rushing and 81 receiving playing with a tight back. “But the pressure came in.”
That alone dashed any hope of a comeback as happened in the semifinals two weeks ago, when Baker (14-1) scored three touchdowns in the final five minutes.
So, the Wildcats were left to rue missed chances. The opening drive that stalled inside the Cougars’ 10 and led to a field goal, the team’s only points of the first half. The holding call in the first half that brought back a 39-yard pass to the St. Francis 1.
There were costly turnovers as well. The strip sack of Brettell that led to a Cougars score on the next play for a 17-3 lead in the final minute of the first half. The fumble by Brown at the St. Francis’ 12 in the fourth quarter that pretty much snuffed out the faint hope that remained for a rally.
At the same time, the defense couldn’t get the big play while preventing the big play. There was a fourth-and-1 on the Cougars’ first drive resulted in a 45-yard run and set up St. Francis’ first touchdown for a 7-3 lead that the Cougars would not relinquish.
Another example was a third-quarter interception by Baker’s Avery Parker in St. Francis territory that was overturned by replay. And finally, after the Wildcats offense found their mojo with a scoring drive in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 17-10, Cougars quarterback Nick Ferrer tossed 59- and 36-yard scoring passes to Seth Coate on the next two possessions to boost St. Francis (13-1) to a 31-10 lead.
“We’ve got to make plays in big games,” Grossner said. “And we can’t give up the big plays, and we did. A lot of their scores were big, long-yardage scores.”
That ended Baker’s second national title game appearance and first in 30 seasons. But Grossner said that one bad game coming at the wrong time won’t ruin it when he reflects back on 2016.
“Fantastic for these guys, what they accomplished, and look at the crowd that came to Florida,” Grossner said. “You have to look at the season as a whole, what these guys did. Nobody likes to get second, it’s a tough feeling. My philosophy is if we didn’t play well enough to win and make enough plays, then we accept it.”