FORT WAYNE – Saint Francis was still ahead, but it wasn’t looking good late as Baker University had all the momentum in a NAIA first-round playoff game Saturday at Bishop D’Arcy Stadium.
But as it had done all game – all year for that matter – the Cougars’ defense rose to the occasion with a key turnover in a 22-17 win in front of 1,371 fans.
Saint Francis (9-2) held the five-point advantage, but Baker (8-3) was driving into Cougars territory when sophomore linebacker Jamael Green intercepted Baker quarterback Sam Vossen to end the Wildcats’ final threat with 2:23 remaining.
As a defense, we are pretty confident in ourselves, said Green, who was named the defensive player of the game. We had a goal to be the No. 1 defense and the No. 1 team in the nation. Any moment, any play can change a game as you saw today. The interception was very big because it was at a time where we had to get a stop. It came to me, and I knew I had to catch the ball or else I wouldn’t have lived it down with my teammates. We are known for causing a lot of turnovers.
We are all excited to be going on. We had a goal to get to the championship, so every opponent is just another steppingstone to get there.
Sixth-ranked Saint Francis will find out its quarterfinal opponent at noon today.
The Cougars’ defense forced four turnovers – two interceptions and two fumble recoveries – in getting the program’s 17th straight home playoff win and 11th straight first-round postseason win.
It says a lot about the kids we have and the character they have, and the pride they have for this school and Fort Wayne, Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley said of the streaks. It is a big deal to them. They worked hard and prepared this week.
You get into games in the postseason and you face teams that wouldn’t be here if they weren’t good. We had to fight to win this game. Defensively, we did a good job. It is a great playoff victory.
The Cougars’ Justin Juarez also had an interception, while Matt Smith and Quinn Doan recovered fumbles. Saint Francis was outgained 357-278 but had a 4-1 advantage in turnovers.
On offense, Josh Miller threw a touchdown to Collin Harruff and ran for a score before leaving late with an ankle injury. He was named the offensive player of the game.
We have been battle-tested all year, Miller of the Cougars, who lost at home to Ambrose 15-14 and at Marian 45-35. We knew it was going to be a tight game. We had to earn every yard, and the defense did a great job.
It all goes back to we are playing next week. We will make the adjustments from this week. The ankle is a little tender right now, but mainly because I haven’t had any ice on it. But we will get that taken care of.
Also for Saint Francis, Antoin Campbell ran for 95 yards, and Emerson Ueber kicked three field goals.