Coming off its worst loss since 2008, the St. Ambrose football team is welcoming this bye week.
"It certainly comes at a good time," head coach Mike Magistrelli said. "If you had to pick a week to have a bye, this is where you’d want to pop it in, for a number of reasons. Some of it health reasons and it breaks up your season. The key for us now is we do have a bye, it does come at an ideal time, let’s take advantage of it."
It was a tough go for the Fighting Bees last Saturday when they fell 52-0 to No. 2 Marian at home. Though the loss was a humbling one, it's one Magistrelli hopes can be used to help the program continue to grow.
"The thing I truly believe in coaching is it’s never as good as it seems, it’s never as bad as it seems," Magistrelli said. "There were some things at times I thought we did OK. We’re not on the same level they are, and that was pretty obvious."
The biggest positive from the Bees was a second-half rushing attack that put up 82 yards after being held to just 36 in the first half. Sophomore Garret Tiarks led the way with nine carries for 55 yards.
Tiarks is just one of several young players who are getting a chance to improve at the varsity level, and one of a handful who made the most of their time against the Knights.
Sophomore defensive end Bernard Buhake had a sack in the game and is averaging over a sack per contest. Sophomore Jaxson Nelson forced a fumble that set up an early chance for the Bees and finished with a team-high nine tackles.
Freshman Jett Schmitt really impressed, starting at right guard after an injury forced the Fighting Bees to shuffle their line around.
"He was not intimidated, he was physical," Magistrelli said of Schmitt. "I love the way he finishes plays. You won’t typically face better D-linemen than what he saw Saturday, and to hold his own and play pretty well I thought that was really an impressive thing."
The Fighting Bees hope they can continue to find these players as new facilities, uniforms and a much more complete game day experience makes them a more attractive place for recruits year after year, and they can take the next step in the national landscape as a result.
"I think we feel good about what we have in the program with the last couple of recruiting classes, we feel we have some good players," Magistrelli said. "Can we get there in a couple of years? That’s the plan."
The Bees have had high-caliber players in years past — Chris Overton, Matt Cotiguala, Brad Connor and Eric Williamson are all over the St. Ambrose record books — but the key is trying to deepen the talent pool, to get to the point Marian and two-time defending national champion Saint Francis (Ind.) have already reached.
"That’s where, in small college football, you’re going to have guys at different spots that are as good as anybody you’ll face," Magistrelli said. "I think what separates the top-tier teams is they’ve got 11 of those guys."
And despite their two losses coming by a combined score of 112-14, the season is far from over for the Bees.
At 4-2, 1-0, St. Ambrose currently sits atop the Mid-States Football Association Midwest League standings and holds its conference fate in its own hands. Win out and the Bees earn their first conference title since 2012.
It starts next week with Saint Xavier.
"Knowing that there’s big games ahead of us, our goals are still ahead of us. Were spirits down after Saturday? Certainly," Magistrelli said. "But I think we’re back focused and moving forward knowing there’s nothing more we can do about that one but that there’s more big football ahead of us."
But for now, the Bees welcome the bye week, to reflect on what they've accomplished so far and to look ahead at what still awaits them.
"We’ve lost two ball games. You take out those two games there’s a lot to like," Magistrelli said. "Finding ways to win, the way we competed, fought through adversity, there’s a lot of positives there."