BALDWIN CITY, Kan. — A tale of two halves for the 17th-ranked Evangel football team saw No. 15 Baker rally 28-21 to hold off the Crusaders in the Heart South Division regular season finale.
Evangel was looking to snap a seven-game win streak by Baker and clinch a spot in the NAIA Postseason. However, the Crusaders were unable to take advantage of several miscues by the Wildcats who rallied back in the second half and then held off the Crusaders at the end.
“I am very proud of how our guys played today,” said head coach Chuck Hepola. “In every phase, we played extremely well for 60 minutes. Our guys competed to the end and gave us every opportunity to win.”
The Crusaders wasted little time to open the game driving 84-yards in nine plays as Cameron Hardesty found Josh Tips in the corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead. Hardesty finished with one of the best games of his career going 31 of 52 for 257 yards and three touchdowns, while Tips had five catches for 58 yards.
A week after committing seven turnovers, Evangel was the aggressor on Saturday. The Crusaders forced three fumbles and Andrew Poppen recorded an interception to help lead the defense.
On the first fumble Evangel was forced to punt but a blocked field goal ended the drive on the second turnover.
After Baker tied the game midway through the second quarter, Evangel managed to take a 14-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. Hardesty connected with Ben Friend for his second touchdown toss of the day, but it was Friend’s effort at the pylon that put the Crusaders out in front with 3:06 before half.
However, the tide turned in the second half when Baker scored on a 68-yard touchdown strike at the 12:37 mark of the third quarter. The Wildcats would take the lead at the 13:44 mark in the fourth quarter after the Crusaders missed a 32-yard field.
The Crusaders controlled most of the game but the ground attack of the Wildcats in the fourth quarter saw Baker almost seal the game with JD Woods scampered from 9-yards out to put the Wildcats up 28-14 with 1:36 left in the game.
After an Evangel interception in the final minute, the Crusaders would get another crack at the Wildcats when a fumble with 40 seconds left gave Evangel the ball back.
Hardesty would drive the Crusaders into the end zone with a 6-yard pass to Haaken Friend. Friend finished with a season-high six catches for 69-yards, while Hardesty connected with 10 different receivers in the loss.
The ensuing on-side kick would see Baker recover the ball after bouncing off a Wildcat player with nine seconds left setting up a kneel down for Baker.
“Hats off to Baker,” Hepola added. “This was a championship game with championship effort on both sides of the field. Lastly, I want to thank our coaches, our senior class, and our team for a great 2019 season.”
Four Crusaders finished with seven tackles to lead the way including Micah Daniels, Jacob Eden, Will Boswell, and Sam Morton.
The win clinches the Heart South Division title for Baker as the Evangel will likely be on the outside of the NAIA postseason. The NAIA Football Selection Show will air on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PlayNAIA Sunday, No. 17, at 6 p.m. CST.