CHICAGO — At points throughout the game Saturday, St. Ambrose looked to have a little of the swagger that helped the Fighting Bees start 2-0.
The result, however, was yet another loss.
The Fighting Bees fell 41-28 to 10th-ranked Saint Xavier, squandering an early 21-7 lead to drop their fifth straight game this season.
"Overall, we got back to playing much better football," head coach Mike Magistrelli said. "We kept grinding, kept battling. ... We played like a good football team today. Does that mean we played mistake-free? No, but we did some good things on both sides of the ball."
After Dillon Valdez' 48-yard interception return gave the Bees the 14-point lead, St. Ambrose was held scoreless for a span of 47 minutes, 1 second. The Cougars scored 34 straight points in that span before Tanner Champley hauled in a 29-yard touchdown pass with 2:21 remaining in the game.
The Bees (2-5, 0-2) recovered the onside kick and drove down to the Cougars' 3-yard line before quarterback Jake Romani was sacked on third down, and his final pass to Champley in the end zone was broken up, thwarting any hopes for a St. Ambrose comeback.
The Bees jumped out to a 21-7 lead early in the first quarter thanks in part to its defense. After Romani hit Chase Ferger with a 27-yard touchdown, the Bees forced a fumble on the next drive and recovered, setting up a 9-yard scoring run by Jake Osterberger. Valdez' interception came on the next drive.
But the Cougars (6-1, 2-0) showed their mettle, scoring the next 34 points to take a 41-21 lead. Included in that was a 59-yard interception return from Trevon Anderson after Anderson picked off Romani with 50 seconds left in the half.
The Bees thought they had scored near the end of the third quarter when Matt Coovert appeared to catch a ball in the end zone on fourth down, but officials ruled it an incompletion.
"One official ruled touchdown, another comes in from behind and ruled incomplete," Magistrelli said. "It's one of those things where everyone else saw it as a completion, Matt Coovert said he caught it, even their defense said 'You got screwed.'"
Perhaps the biggest bright spot for the Bees was the play of freshman Deontae Curry. Making his first varsity start at linebacker, Curry recorded 14 total tackles, three for loss, with two sacks and a pass breakup.
The defense as a whole surrendered 330 total yards and gave up some big plays but held the Cougars to 15 yards on the ground.
"I thought defensively we played extremely well," Magistrelli said. "We did a great job shutting down their run game, but unfortunately we gave up some bigger pass plays that were tough to overcome."