St.Ambrose junior Eric Williamson is back this year as quarterback for Ambrose. August 21, 2012. (Larry Fisher/QUAD-CITY TIMES)

Larry Fisher

St. Ambrose junior quarterback Eric Williamson is the first two-year starter at his position in Mike Magistrelli’s tenure as Fighting Bees coach. Turns out, familiarity breeds success.

Williamson has been shooting up the St. Ambrose record books since taking the controls of the offense as a sophomore.

He is No. 6 all-time in passing yards with 3,801, needing 323 more to take over the No. 5 spot. He also is No. 6 in completions, needing just two more to move into fifth. His 30 touchdowns this year are tied for the single-season mark at St. Ambrose. He is third all-time in touchdown passes with 45, needing nine more to become No. 1.

Even with the gaudy statistics, it wasn’t his arm that originally caught Magistrelli’s eye.

“One, you could tell he was calm and collected,” Magistrelli said. “Coming from Sacred Heart (High School in Springfield, Ill.), they have a great offensive attack, but the thing that stuck out was when there was pressure all around him, he always found a way to make a play.

“And then his accuracy. A lot of guys complete passes, but completing passes and giving the receiver an ability to run after the catch is what makes him so dangerous. He can put the ball not only to the receiver, but exactly where the receiver needs it.”

Williamson is the first to admit he’s not always the most vocal leader. But he makes sure his leadership is expressed in other ways.

“When we’re not having such a good practice, you’ve got to be excited when other people aren’t,” Williamson said. “You’ve got to have some intensity and keep the energy level up.”

Bees running back and kick returner Zach Rockford has gone to school with Williamson since third grade. He still sees the same leader he’s seen all along. It’s in his actions and positive body language, Rockford said, that his buddy demonstrates his leadership in tough times.

“He doesn’t shy away from contact, either,” Rockford said. “It gets the sideline pumped up when you see your quarterback run over a guy on the field.

“Eric was always an athlete throughout high school and grade school. He always had that little edge that other people didn’t.”

The 10th-ranked Bees (8-1) close the regular season Saturday against No. 24 St. Francis (Ill.) at Brady Street Stadium.

Williamson is well aware that there is a finite number of games left for him to play football. That drives him to make sure each day counts.

“There’s no other sport like football,” the junior said. “I know that once my senior year is over, it’s the end of the road for me. Talking with some of the seniors, they don’t want to stop playing, and I think I’ll feel like that next year, too. So I just embrace the grind, embrace every day. I just love the game of football.”

As long as Williamson is on the field, the coaching staff feels good about its chances to score and win.

“He doesn’t make mistakes,” St. Ambrose offensive coordinator Matt Drinkall said. “I always talk to the kids about as long as you don’t lose the game, you’ll win the game. More games are lost than they are won. It’s not that Eric makes all these unbelievable plays, he just never jeopardizes the team by making horrible decisions or mistakes.”

By Drinkall’s count during St. Ambrose’s 17 spring practices, Williamson committed only one turnover against a Bees defense that has forced 22 in nine games this year.

“The biggest thing that will be his challenge will be to force himself to continue to improve,” Drinkall said. “No matter how good you are, there’s always room for improvement.

“Now that he’s entrenched as the starter and had a lot of success, it’s now up to him to continuously press himself just the same way he did when he was trying to become the starter a couple of years ago. He’s got to keep that edge all the time. And I have no doubt he’ll do that. We’re as fortunate as any team in America to have a guy like him.”

Playoff scenarios

While St. Ambrose’s prospects for a postseason berth look strong, step one for the Fighting Bees is to defeat St. Francis (Ill.) on Saturday at Brady Street Stadium.

Provided the Bees take care of business, there are several scenarios in play.

If William Penn beats Grand View on Saturday, there will be a three-way tie with those two schools and No. 10 -ranked Ambrose. As the higher ranked team, the Bees would head into the playoffs as the conference representative based on a tiebreaker. In that case, the Bees would be on the road in the playoffs.

However, if Southern Oregon defeats No. 7 Montana Tech at home, along with William Penn beating Grand View, Ambrose could slide as high as No. 8 and earn a home playoff game.

Should Ambrose lose to St. Francis, Bees coach Mike Magistrelli called his team’s chances of making the playoffs “50/50 at best.”

No. 8 University of Cumberlands is the only team in the top 10 idle this week.