It's game week for St. Ambrose.
No, really, this time it is.
After seeing last week's season opener against Trinity Bible College canceled four days prior to kickoff, the Fighting Bees will finally get to open their 2019 campaign on the road Saturday against Missouri Baptist down in St. Louis.
The Bees and Spartans have played each other tight the last two seasons, Missouri Baptist winning 42-37 in 2017 and St. Ambrose returning the favor 25-20 last year. The Bees have learned to expect the unexpected when it comes to the Spartans.
"Preparing for MoBap, the last two years we've played them, what they've shown on film and what they did on game day were two different things, it's crazy," head coach Mike Magistrelli said. "Two years ago, they're nothing but a 4-3. ... We roll in there and they line up in a 3-3 stack. Last year, nothing but a 3-4; we go to play them and it's a 4-3.
"It's part of that unknown this early in the season compounded with a team that has thrown us a curveball the last two years."
This year, the Bees will have a curveball of their own.
After a tight battle that lasted through spring ball and into fall camp, junior Dino Borrelli and sophomore John Benckendorf will both see plenty of snaps at quarterback as St. Ambrose is electing to utilize a dual-quarterback system dependent mainly on personnel packages.
Borrelli, who made one start last year, will operate mainly in four-receiver sets while Benckendorf will get the majority of the snaps in formations utilizing the super-back after serving as the JV quarterback last season.
"I think it will help our team better than if only one of us is playing," Borrelli said. "It makes both of us still compete harder, which will help our team out a lot. We're both a little bit different so I think both our styles will help us succeed."
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Both quarterbacks have seen reps out of both personnel sets in practice. There will be times in games where Borrelli or Benckendorf may remain in regardless of what's on the field, but the coaching staff thinks this is the best way to utilize two players who have played well enough to earn playing time.
"One of Dino's strengths is his decision-making, reading, and I think part of that is his whole additional year in our system," Magistrelli said. "John is a little bit more natural ability where in some of our other packages, we can take advantage of that a little bit more with him in terms of what we're having him do."
It also helps condense the playbook a bit as both quarterbacks don't have as much they have to learn as they prepare to take over the reins of the offense.
While it may be a little disappointing to not be "the guy," both agree they'll enjoy this better than being the backup.
"I think me and Dino are handling it well," Benckendorf said. "Both of us earning this job is a compliment in itself. Being the younger guy, I've played well, Dino has played really well in the spring game, spring ball, this fall ball. We're both playing our best and both leading our groups."
The decision will lead to some changes in how the Bees operate on game days. In years past, signals would be relayed to the starter by the backup and JV quarterbacks. This year, with either quarterback trying to stay in game rhythm, signals will be relayed by the coaching staff.
But having the quarterback be determined by the personnel set allows Magistrelli to call the game like he normally would, without worrying about having to balance reps. It also makes sure both quarterbacks are fully engaged in what's going on during the game, ready to enter at a moment's notice.
Because of the lost game against Trinity Bible College, St. Ambrose only has nine games to try and get back to the NAIA playoffs for the first time since 2013. Along with cracking the top 20 in the national rankings, the Bees also need to win their half of the conference. That adds a sense of urgency, especially considering Missouri Baptist gives them a conference test right off the bat.
"Our motto is to get that 10th game. Win those big games and start out on the right foot." Benckendorf said. "There's no room for error."