For three-quarters of play on Saturday afternoon, the St. Ambrose University football team was kind of like rainy weather – not good.
But after dropping 26 points early in the fourth quarter on a humid afternoon of intermittent downpour, the Fighting Bees finally got things together and scored three touchdowns in a row.
However, once back in the game, SAU couldn’t find the offense it needed on one more trip to make the comeback and dropped a decision not to hold the 36-30 Conference to Central States Football Association opponent Lawrence Tech at Brady Street.
“We have to find a way to play our best football when we’re not down 28 points,” said first-year SAU coach Vince Philip. “It seems that when we are relaxed and not thinking about the result when we perform at a higher level and put a lot of pressure on the teams.
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“In close matches and difficult situations, we don’t.”
The Fighting Bees (0-3 and with an open week on the schedule next week) certainly did so against the 1-2 Blue Devils as junior quarterback Tom Casey responded by leading three quick scoring attempts that culminated in three touchdown passes in the Homecoming contest.
Lawrence Tech surged 36-10 with a TD of 10 yards off Keone Sanders with 12:54 remaining in regulation.
SAU answered with 9 plays, an 80-yard drive capped by a 26-yard hit from Casey to Nolan Bielskis (2 stops, 61 yards).
The dog’s kick attempt was reclaimed by the Blue Devils and an offside penalty was parried five yards away at SAU, but the defense held a touchdown after giving up one first.
A 35-yard finish to Belskis’s 23-yard senior Yemi Ward finish led to a 7-play, 72-yard crown, leaving the remaining fans a little excited with the Bees within 36-23.
The excitement began when Jonathan Thurman reclaimed his LTU tumble with 3:20 left and awarded Bee his 43rd possession.
In the next play, Casey Ward hit an open post-style for a 57-yard touchdown while pulling a defender into the end zone with him. Joe Namio’s point-by-point kick suddenly became one possession game with 3:08 left.
“We were just a bunch of guys playing plays,” said Ward, who finished with four catches for 155 yards and three TDs from the comeback.
“We were playing with a lot more confidence and started throwing the ball down,” Philip said, not using the wet conditions as a crutch as the Blue Devils threw many 316 yards in the rain.
LTU took another kick to the side and got one down first, but the Bees held on to fourth down as a measurement that led to a spin in the drop.
Casey hit Ward to gain 17 yards at the start with the clock ticking toward the final minute and the ball within 35. But Casey was unable to complete the comeback as he threw Ward open midfield third down and missed by coming out in front of the SAU bench fourth down with 37 seconds from the left.
“We’re a resilient team,” Ward said. “We were down 36-10, but no one on the sidelines had bad body language. Everyone was just raising their heads and just afraid to do the next play and not think about the past. That comes from our coaching staff.”
But this coaching staff knows there’s a lot to work on as the Bees look forward to the opening game for the MSFA Midwest division at Trinity International on October 1.
“We don’t have anyone to quit. They are fighting their[butts],” Philip said of his club, which scored 368 yards from LTU’s 561 attack. “We need to find a way to play faster and more relaxed football.”
LTU opened the game with an 11-game surgical move and 96 yards that put the Bees on their heels the rest of the inning as the guests reached a 21-7 lead in the first half.
SAU cut the margin to 14-7 with 5:11 remaining in the second quarter on a 61-yard strike from Casey-to-Ward, but frustration set in at SAU over the Blue Devils’ possession that followed. Bees stopped driving twice, but SAU’s offside penalty in the penalty kick formation gave the visitors a downward goal first and then Zach Alberts’ interception (12 interventions) was eliminated with a harsh penalty kick. Two plays later, LTU QB Tyler Kulka had the third of his four TD throws.
“We were off the field twice,” Philp said. “We talk about it – if not every day, several times a week – that we need to be the smartest football team, the most physically fit football team and the most flexible football team. That was a topic of discussion in the first half because we weren’t a football team. clever in this situation.”