St. Ambrose still controls its own destiny

Originally Posted Online: Nov. 06, 2011, 7:15 pm
Last Updated: Nov. 06, 2011, 7:16 pm
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By Tom Johnston,

The St. Ambrose University football team on Saturday missed out on its chance to wrap up a share of the Mid-States Football Association Midwest League crown in a 14-7 home setback to William Penn.

But even though the nationally 12th-ranked Fighting Bees (7-2) suffered their first league loss, they are still in an enviable position. They get a second-chance this Saturday to grab their share of the league title and position themselves for a coveted spot in the NAIA National playoffs.

Saturday's results leave four teams – SAU, the nationally 8th-ranked WPU Statesmen, 16th-ranked St. Francis, Ill., and No. 23 Grand View – tied for the top spot in the Midwest League with 5-1 records. In an interesting twist, SAU is at St. Francis and William Penn is at Grand View.

According to WPU coach Todd Hafner, depending upon who wins those Saturday showdowns and how the final coaches poll ends up, the Midwest League could have just one playoff representative, although two is more likely.

The question that looms for the Bees is whether or not they can bounce back from such a tough loss and be ready for a Saints team that pulled off a huge shocker this past weekend. USF traveled to Atlanta and knocked off NCAA Div. I Georgia State 30-27 in overtime in front of a crowd of 11,565 fans at the Georgia Dome.

Needless to say, the Saints will be pumped after that. And the Bees will have to match that enthusiasm.

"I feel, if anything, we are going to be more fired up in practice because we know what's at stake now," said junior defensive lineman Sean Santiago, who had seven solo tackles and two tackles-for-loss vs. WPU. "I feel this group is going to crank it up even more and be ready to get after St. Francis."

This bunch of Bees has shown much more resolve than recent SAU teams when it comes to character. After their only other loss this season -- a 34-33 heartbreaker to St. Francis, Ind. -- they came back with six straight victories.

"We're good at responding to adversity this year, so I think we can come back and still have a shot at that title," said sophomore quarterback Eric Williamson. "We really wanted to win this one at home, it would have been a lot sweeter. But we still have another shot next week. It's going to be a tough St. Francis team, but I think we can come out with the win."

So does Coach Mike Magistrelli, who has seen this team rally in tough situations.

"I expect them to come back this week in practice the same way they did this past week and that's to prepare for a conference championship," said Magistrelli. "All the goals are still ahead of us – we can still win a conference championship, we can still make the playoffs. Basically the playoffs start this week for us. ... I know this group pretty well now and they'll be ready."

- Still a great punt: SAU freshman punter Matt Klingler came into the WPU game leading the NAIA in punting average. He didn't do anything to hurt his numbers on his first kick that sailed 62 yards. As great a kick as it was, it wasn't his long of the season – he unleashed a 71-yarder vs. Iowa Wesleyan.

SAU's football record book does not have a category for longest punt in school history, but Klingler is close to securing the top average for a punter in a season. Through nine games, he is averaging 43.9 yards per kick, which is better than Josh Embretson's 2000 school record of 41.2 per kick.

- Speaking of punters: While there were a number of critical plays in Saturday's game at Brady Street Stadium, a local prep made one of the bigger ones – even if it was covering for his own blunder, according to his coach.

Geneseo product Jason Johnson, a sophomore at William Penn, serves as one of two punters the Statesmen use in a unique punting formation that places two kickers back to receive the snap. Coach Hafner says that the direction the punt is to go determines which kicker takes the snap.

With WPU nursing the 14-7 lead early in the fourth, a miscommunication between punters left the snap sailing between the two and on the ground near the WPU 40-yard line. Johnson did a 180-degree spin to chase down the ball, corral it and still get off what officially was a 41-yard punt for a touchback. It was closer to a 60-yard kick.

"Fortunately, he made a great athletic play," said Hafner of his 2010 second-team all-conference punter. "That could have been a huge play. We were fortunate there that Jason made a good play."

In addition to punting, Johnson is also used on the defensive line where his quickness can make it tough on opposing linemen.

"He's one of our better pass-rushers," said Hafner. "Jason is so athletic that he can get off the edge and has a good lower-the-shoulder move around end. It's one of those things where they can probably call holding against him every time and they don't. He does a really good job for us."


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