Jake Romani wasn't going to watch his career end from the sidelines.
Twice Saturday the St. Ambrose senior quarterback looked like he could barely walk, a pair of first-half sacks exacerbating an ankle injury suffered two weeks ago.
But Romani stuck it out, and though the Fighting Bees fell 43-14 to Olivet Nazarene, Romani made sure they went down fighting at Brady Street Stadium.
"It doesn't feel too good, but I had to dust myself off and try to get out there on my last day," said Romani, who missed seven plays in the game. "I was going to do everything I could to stay in there and fight it out until the end. It's been fun, I appreciate all these guys having my back. It's a family out here, and I can't thank them enough."
Romani's grit and determination were a mark of a senior class that led the Bees to a 6-4 finish after a pair of 4-6 campaigns in the two years prior.
"There are guys that have gutted it out, and I talked to them as a group after the game just now, that it hasn't always been easy, but these are the guys that stuck with it and kept battling and kept grinding," head coach Mike Magistrelli said. "It's nice to have them have a winning season their senior year, but I think a lot of what this group has brought to the table, we'll measure the next year and the year after, just in terms of building a foundation."
Romani's injury wasn't the only early hit the Bees (6-4, 3-2) took as they lost cornerback Kobe Easley on the Tigers' first drive of the game.
Easley hurt his hand after breaking up his third pass of the game and didn't return.
The Tigers (5-5, 4-1) took advantage as Jordan Lawton hit Jalen Dunnigan with a 40-yard touchdown pass on the first play of Olivet's next drive to take a 6-0 lead. The loss of Easley was felt again in the second quarter as Lawton hit a wide-open Brady Walling with a 31-yard touchdown pass to put the Tigers up 19-0.
The secondary played better in the second half as Lawton finished the game with 219 yards and two touchdowns on the day, but the damage had been done early.
"He's had an outstanding year. He's a tremendous player, the best corner in the league in my opinion," Magistrelli said of Easley. "We've got to be deeper than one person, but obviously that was a big loss for us."
The Bees also struggled all day getting the Tigers off the field. Olivet was 9 of 13 on third down conversions in the game, including picking up a pair of third and 12 conversions, setting up a 3-yard touchdown run from Jared Honey that put the Tigers up 26-0 with 6:42 in the second quarter.
"I don't think it was anything they were doing, I just don't think we were doing our best," senior linebacker Taylor O'Donnell said. "We weren't getting a great rush, we weren't covering our guys, just all around, we weren't performing."
St. Ambrose got on the board with a 2-yard touchdown run from Jake Osterberger to cut the score to 26-7 with 1:32 left in the half. After Griffin Zajac intercepted a Lawton pass in the end zone on Olivet's first drive of the second half, the Bees drove right down the field, getting a 4-yard touchdown run from Tanner Champley to cut the lead to 26-14 with 7:52 left in the third quarter.
That was as close as the Bees could get as the Tigers scored the final 17 points to put the game away.
"There are other series you've got to capitalize on, but regardless, we came out, we responded," Romani said. "Everyone played hard to the end and that was our mindset."