When playing a good team, you have to be at your best in order to have a chance to be victorious.
The St. Ambrose University football team was playing a very strong and talented bunch from Concordia (Mich.) College on Saturday at Brady Street Stadium and the Fighting Bees were neither at their best nor disciplined enough to take down the NAIA's sixth-ranked Cardinals.
An absolutely horrible first half in which SAU logged just 24 yards offense and too many mistakes in the second half cost the Bees a chance at the upset, falling 34-14 in the Mid-States Football Association crossover contest on a sunny, warm afternoon at Brady Street Stadium.
Despite all the struggles and Concordia playing well in its opener, the 1-2 Bees were still improbably in the game early in the fourth quarter when senior running back Cade Gorzny broke off a 67-yard touchdown run with 13:44 left in regulation. Tom Gillen's second PAT kick of the afternoon pulled the Bees within 21-14.
But on that TD jaunt through the right side of the offensive line and the Cardinals defense, the Bees were flagged for two dumb penalties. The first was a taunting call on an offensive lineman at the spot where Gorzny broke into the open field that originally had the officials bringing the ball back to the line of scrimmage where the scoring play commenced and taking points off the board.
After a lengthy conversation, the penalty was to be assessed on the ensuing kickoff.
So was SAU's second sideline call of the game when players went too far down toward the end zone to celebrate the game-turning play.
Those two flags ended up turning the game right back around in Concordia's favor.
“It's 21-14, but we're kicking off from our own 5 into the wind,” said SAU coach Mike Magistrelli of the short-field possession that the guests took advantage of. “It's too much to ask of your defense to come up with a stop there.”
On that ensuing kickoff from the shadow of its own goal line, SAU gave up a 27-yard return to the Cardinals' Dakota Hobbs who took the ball to the SAU 35.
Five plays later, freshman quarterback Gavin Brooks found Hobbs for an 8-yard TD pass and the Cardinals were back on top 28-14 with 11:48 left in regulation.
“I think that killed their momentum,” said Concordia coach Joshua Schumacher of those two penalties and kickoff return. “We extended it back to two scores that quickly and that gave us the momentum back.”
A final score inside of a minute remaining extended the margin.
The Bees struggled to get any momentum at all in the game against a defense that portends to be one of the best in NAIA this fall. The Cardinals held SAU to 221 yards total offense on 62 snaps.
“We knew we were going to get a physical football team on both sides,” said Magistrelli, noting the prep was a bit different with this being Concordia's opener and no film available. “I give them a lot of credit, they got after us, especially their defense against our offense in the first half. We struggled to get anything going.”
The Cardinals were big and physical, making it look as if they had stopped and grabbed a couple of players from the Division I university in Ann Arbor on their way out of town.
SAU trailed 21-0 at halftime when Concordia scored a third TD with 51 seconds left in the half. The Cardinals rolled to 242 yards in 42 plays in the first half en route to 400 for the game.
“It's always tough when you get yourself in a hole going into halftime,” said Gorzny, who finished with 120 yards in 13 carries. “It's about going toward the fight and not backing away from it. I'm proud of my guys — we did that. We just put ourselves in too big a hole in the first half.”
Still, SAU kept fighting back.
A nice drive on its second possession of the third quarter resulted in a chance that reached the Concordia 16-yard line before stalling. Gillen was wide right on a 34-yard field goal attempt with 6:14 left in the frame.
But the Bees' defense forced a punt when the Cardinals stagnated on offense thanks to a couple of big penalties.
Taking over at the Concordia 46, the Bees needed just four plays to get into the end zone, a drive capped by a 38-yard strike from Tom Casey to Yemi Ward on a 4th-and-3 slant when Ward out-ran the defense for about 35 of those yards.
But other than those back-to-back possessions, it was tough sledding for the Bees, who are at Lawrence Technical University in Michigan next Saturday.
“The guys responded in that second half,” said Magistrelli. “I've never questioned that with this group. They always play extremely hard.”