There's no conference title up for grabs or postseason berth on the line, but this final weekend still carries importance for the St. Ambrose football team.
Saturday's game against Olivet Nazarene marks the final chapter of an up-and-down season, one that started strong with two straight wins before a five-game losing streak ended any lofty preseason aspirations.
But the Fighting Bees have won their last two games and have a chance to finish 5-5 and avoid consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1991-92.
"We're viewing it as a program as a big week, an important week for us in the number of different ways it can impact," head coach Mike Magistrelli said. "For the senior class, going out with a win and on a three-game win streak with a really positive end to the season. What it can do for us from a recruiting standpoint, what it can do for us for the young guys in our program to go out on a positive ... it’s an important game. It’s a big game."
The Bees have showed plenty of resiliency and character in the final month of the season.
Sitting at 2-5 after a 2-0 start, the team could have packed it in, gone through the motions and let the season end in unceremonious fashion.
They've responded with two straight wins, including a 35-29 shootout victory over Robert Morris in which St. Ambrose had numerous chances to roll over and accept another loss.
"That’s something I think has come out in this group ... a mental toughness," Magistrelli said. "It would have been easy at the 2-5 point in the season to say this is a lost season. … Just a lot of character for this group of guys to keep buying into what we’re saying and coaching and teaching to keep working, keep practicing, keep battling hard. It speaks volumes to the group of guys we have, from the seniors all the way down to the young guys in the program."
It's the young men in the program who will be counted on next year, and they've earned plenty of experience this season, whether it's junior quarterback Jake Romani, who has thrown for nearly 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns but also has 10 interceptions, or a running back corps led by a pair of sophomores in Jake Osterberger and Baylee Hopps.
Whether its a defensive secondary that has seen numerous freshmen and sophomores flank the lone senior, Jake Platt, or a linebacking corps that got a shot in the arm from freshman Deontae Curry's 26 tackles and three sacks in three games, it's clear the Bees are building for the future and a win this weekend can help that future continue to grow.
"We’ve known all along through the course of the season that by being young and inexperienced, there is a big positive there, and that’s the development of the young guys and the future," Magistrelli said. "To win this last game for all the returning guys would be a great springboard and a great lift to next season."
It won't be an easy feat against the Tigers, who at 5-5 are in a similar position to St. Ambrose, looking for their first winning season since 2004. Erik Anderson leads the Tigers with 812 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns while quarterback Jordan Lawton has thrown for 1,833 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Magistrelli expects it will take everything the Bees have to go down to Bourbonnais, Illinois, and return with one last win.
"They’re a very physical football team, which is where I think we’ve excelled the last couple of weeks so I think it’s potentially going to be a great matchup," Magistrelli said. "It’s going to take a well-rounded approach for us to win.”