FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Thanks to its defense, St. Ambrose had plenty of opportunities to pull off a big upset.
The offense couldn’t take advantage.
Despite four takeaways, St. Ambrose fell 31-13 to third-ranked Saint Francis (Ind.)
St. Ambrose finished the game with 273 total yards and three turnovers as well, making it hard for the offense to find its rhythm.
“I thought we competed, I thought we played hard,” head coach Mike Magistrelli said. “We did some good things today, we took some steps in the right direction. We hung in for a while, but we weren’t able to overcome those against a good opponent.”
The Fighting Bees (1-3) suffered a big blow during the game as Magistrelli said junior quarterback Dino Borrelli suffered a broken collarbone and will miss the rest of the season. Sophomore John Benckendorf will now see the majority of the snaps after splitting time with Borrelli through the first four games.
Benckendorf was 13 of 23 for 120 yards and two touchdowns but also threw an interception in the end zone right after Griffin Zajac intercepted Matt Crable in the first half.
“Obviously it breaks your heart for Dino, and it puts us in a situation where we’ve been playing two quarterbacks throughout the season to now John being the guy,” Magistrelli said. “I thought John handled the situation extremely well, to step in against a really good opponent like that.”
The Cougars took an early 7-0 lead when Crable hit Matt Kominkiewicz with a 30-yard touchdown pass at the 10-minute, 21-second mark of the first quarter. Later in the frame, Martell Williams rushed for a 24-yard score to put Saint Francis up 14-0.
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A 24-yard field goal from Gavin Gardner in the second quarter gave the Cougars a 17-0 lead at halftime, but St. Ambrose responded to start the second half.
Benckendorf led the Fighting Bees on a 79-yard drive, capped by a big play from the sophomore. Benckendorf eluded a sack, scrambled to his left and hit Blake Wittman with a 36-yard touchdown pass to put St. Ambrose on the board, trailing 17-7 with 11:38 left in the third quarter.
St. Ambrose had four chances to cut into the lead even further, twice set up takeaways by the defense. Jeremiah Jackson Sr. had his fourth interception of the season and Ryan Zitkus recovered a fumble, but the offense couldn’t capitalize on the extra opportunities, including a Benckendorf fumble that stalled a drive that had moved into Saint Francis territory.
Finally, the St. Ambrose defense yielded as Crable hit Casey Coll, who broke tackles and hugged the sideline during his 64-yard run for a touchdown that put the Cougars up 24-7 with 11:31 left in the game.
“We did a great job defensively to hold them at 17 for a while,” Magistrelli said. “We had a lot of energy, and guys are playing extremely hard, but you get a couple of those turnovers and it’s so hard to overcome those.”
Saint Francis added another touchdown on its next drive as Crable hit Kominkiewicz for a 28-yard score to put the Cougars up 31-7.
St. Ambrose scored on the final play of the game as Benckendorf found Garret Tiarks for a 16-yard touchdown pass, but the PAT was not attempted to finish the game.
Isaiah Hawkins led the St. Ambrose rushing attack with 21 carries for 66 yards in his first game since being moved back to running back after playing the first three games at receiver.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction and we’re heading into a bye,” Magistrelli said, “probably at the right time.”