ST. LOUIS — It took St. Ambrose a quarter to shake off the rust of a long offseason.
By that point, the Fighting Bees found themselves in a nine-point hole, but they rallied to grab a 45-37 season-opening win over Missouri Baptist at W. Michael Ross Stadium, outscoring the Spartans 31-14 over the last three quarters.
"It wasn't a great start for us all around," head coach Mike Magistrelli said. "It was a really tough way to start, but I was proud that we found ourselves in a pretty good hole early but kept battling."
With its season opener last week cancelled four days before kickoff, the Fighting Bees (1-0, 1-0 MSFA Midwest) had some early miscues that allowed the Spartans to grab a cushion.
After the Bees defense forced a 3-and-out on the first drive of the game, a muffed punt gave the Spartans (0-2, 0-1) possession at the St. Ambrose 20.
The Bees held on 4th-and-goal at the 1, but on the first offensive play of the year for St. Ambrose, Garrett Tiarks was tackled in the end zone for a safety.
The Spartans took a 9-0 lead on a 4-yard rush by Chris Baldwin at the 9-minute, 27-second mark of the first quarter.
St. Ambrose answered, driving right down the field and scoring the season's first touchdown, a 9-yard run by sophomore quarterback John Benckendorf at 6:15 in the first.
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The Spartans scored two more touchdowns to take a 23-7 lead before Matt Coovert scored a 5-yard rushing touchdown to make the score 23-14 after one quarter.
After a 40-yard field goal from Tom Gillen made it 23-17, St. Ambrose rolled the dice to end the first half, electing to keep its offense on the field for the final play instead of kicking a field goal.
Benckendorf made the gamble count, running in for a 2-yard score to give the Bees a 24-23 lead at halftime.
"I thought to get the score there on the last possession of the half and to go into halftime up a point was a great sign for our team," Magistrelli said. "I don't know if we could have had much more go wrong in the first half, but to battle through adversity like that and take the lead was a great sign of where our football team's at early in the season."
St. Ambrose scored second-half touchdowns on a 6-yard rush from Tiarks, a 61-yard interception return from Jeremiah Jackson Sr. and a 6-yard pass from Benckendorf to Vince Vignali that allowed the Bees to fend off a late Spartan charge.
Jackson had two interceptions, part of a strong defensive day for the Bees that also featured a pair of goal-line stands in the first half.
"I thought we played pretty darn well," Magistrelli said. "Obviously we'll look at film and see things we could have done better, but it wasn't your typical 37 points type of effort."
In St. Ambrose's first game using a two-quarterback system, Benckendorf finished 3-of-8 for 33 yards and two scores along with five carries for 11 yards and two scores, while fellow quarterback Dino Borrelli was 12-of-23 passing for 149 yards and added 14 yards on the ground.
"I thought the big key for us offensively was moving up tempo. I think we wore them down at times," Magistrelli said. "I thought both guys did a great job of doing what we asked of them."