Just two weeks ago, St. Ambrose was right with the defending national champions, down a touchdown with one minute left before halftime.
Ever since that moment, it seems as if the Fighting Bees have lost something. They gave up 21 straight points in that loss two weeks ago and endured more struggles Saturday, falling 42-19 to St. Francis (Ill.) at Brady Street Stadium.
Saturday's loss was St. Ambrose's third straight and its second straight to a previously winless team.
"We’re not playing to our level of football," senior defensive end Chris Overton said. "I’ve seen this team have swag, and I feel like ever since our first loss we’ve been playing to everybody else’s level and not ours."
The Bees (2-3, 0-1) struggled on both sides of the ball, getting outgained 504-296 and allowing St. Francis backup quarterback Aaron Ellis to throw for 337 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bees struggled to get the Saints (1-3, 1-0) off the field, with St. Francis 9-for-18 on third down conversions — including a 53-yard pass play on 3rd and 16 in the second quarter — and 2-for-3 on fourth down conversions.
"It’s just execution, and it’s so tough when there’s one or two of the 11 either making a mental mistake or physical excuse, it’s hard to execute on both sides," head coach Mike Magistrelli said. "It’s getting frustrating because you’re tired of the ‘My bad’ or ‘I missed that one.’ I told the guys, that gets you beat in this league, and we’ve got to find a way to be better."
The Bees took their first drive of the game right down the field but settled for a 26-yard field goal from Kenny Rowe to open up a 3-0 lead. St. Francis answered with a touchdown drive, then took a 14-3 lead after a strip sack of Jake Romani gave the Saints the ball back at the Bees' 37.
St. Ambrose took the next drive down inside the St. Francis 10-yard line but had to settle for another field goal before allowing another touchdown to fall behind 21-6 at halftime.
"We’ve got to come out ready to play. We can’t get down early," said Romani, who was 16-of-37 for 194 yards on the day. "We’ve got to come out, punch it in in the red zone, defense has to step up on third downs, all around. It’s just making plays and being smart with the football."
St. Francis scored two more times before St. Ambrose finally found the end zone on an 8-yard pass from Romani to Carter Himmelman in the third quarter. Jake Osterberger cut the score to 35-19 with an 8-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter but St. Francis quickly answered right back for the final score of the day.
St. Ambrose doesn't have much time to reflect on Saturday's setback. Not with eighth-ranked Marian, two years removed from a national title of its own, up next on the schedule.
"It’s almost like we need a clean slate," said Overton, who had 11 tackles, six for loss, and two sacks in the game. "We need to get together as a team and look in the mirror and say, ‘Look, is this how I want to play football?’ We don’t want to just come out here and go through the motions. We need to come out here and actually want to play. Not just put on the jersey and put on the helmet but actually come out here knowing we want to play football."