St. Ambrose is at something of a crossroads this week.
After a 2-0 start to the season, the Fighting Bees have dropped their last two games, including a 42-37 loss to a previously winless Missouri Baptist team last week.
"It was a different team than what we saw on film a little bit schematically, but they played really well. We compounded that by not necessarily playing well," head coach Mike Magistrelli said. "They played really well so give them credit, but we have no choice but to move past. If you look at the season, we played two good games to start, played the No. 1 team in the nation (in Saint Francis Indiana), played them tough for a while then had one clunker."
It was a humbling loss for the Fighting Bees, who were ranked 23rd just two weeks ago.
"I know we came back Monday and watched a little film (after Missouri Baptist), and you could see it in the guys’ eyes that it hurt a little bit," sophomore offensive lineman Zach Gadbury said. "It kind of hit you in the mouth. I’m not going to lie, I think I overlooked them. I think everybody kind of overlooked them."
Despite the setback, the Fighting Bees' goals are still attainable. St. Ambrose opens its Mid-States Football Association Midwest League conference slate this week, hosting St. Francis (Ill.) Saturday at Brady Street Stadium.
A conference title is still up for grabs, and with eighth-ranked Marian and 13th-ranked Saint Xavier still left on the schedule, there's still a possibility the Bees could end up in the top 20 by season's end, which would give St. Ambrose a playoff spot if it's the conference champion.
"We’ve had a couple of tough losses back to back but everything we’ve shot for as goals at the beginning of the season are still in front of us," Gadbury said. "We can still win a conference championship and win out and maybe make the playoffs and see if we can’t make a deep run."
Losing to the Spartans last week was humbling enough that the Bees aren't overlooking St. Francis (Ill.), which is 0-3 but have two losses to ranked teams, including No. 1 Saint Francis (Ind.).
"We definitely learned not to take anyone lightly after last week," senior defensive lineman Kodie Olshefsky said. "We’re definitely not underestimating them. We know we’re going to have to bring it in order to win."
The Bees have had trouble with the Saints recently, dropping the last two meetings. Quarterback Don Butkus is at the helm of the Saints' offense for the third straight season, and the Bees had trouble containing the dual threat last year as Butkus threw for 254 yards and a touchdown and ran for 57 yards and three scores in a 35-14 Saints win.
"One thing we want to do this week is stop the run and make them one dimensional with the pass, and I think if we can do that, we’ll definitely beat them," Olshefsky said. "We’ve got to make sure that when (Butkus) does want to pass it, he can’t get out of the pocket because he’s got great mobility and can move around. He’s real quick."
While the Bees still feel confident in their future, they will have to overcome some injuries on both sides of the ball.
Starting center Karl Fowler was injured last week, forcing the Bees to once again shift their offensive line after left tackle Zac Benckendorf suffered a season-ending injury in the season opener. Tyler Griffith takes over at left tackle while Gadbury moves from left tackle to center.
Gadbury hasn't had much experience snapping the ball but has been working hard with quarterback Jake Romani to make a smooth transition.
"It’s tough; it’s something I’ve never really had to do before, snapping it first then going and blocking, but I feel I’ve done a pretty good job of always trying to have a ball in my hand, keeping the same motion," Gadbury said. "This offensive line this year is a special group, and even though we’ve had a couple injuries I feel the guys coming in and stepping in have been doing a great job."