SPRINGFIELD, MO. Football coaches around the Heart of America Conference must scratch their heads when they look at Baker University's record.
The Wildcats were picked to finish eighth in the 10-team conference, but halfway through the season, Baker is just one game out of first. The Wildcats will try to hand Evangel its first loss of the season today at Kennedy Stadium. Kickoff is 1:30 p.m.
Baker coach John Frangoulis said his players had succeeded this season by following directions.
"They've done what we've asked them to do," Frangoulis said. "We told them just do as we ask and we'll be there in the end."
The Crusaders are ranked eighth in NAIA Division II.
Baker's running game has put the Wildcats near the top of the HAAC. The Wildcats are ranked second in the conference in rushing offense (217 yards per game). They piled up 408 yards on the ground last Saturday against Culver-Stockton. Tailback Cedric Colbert is ranked 10th nationally (123.7).
Evangel's defense is ranked third nationally overall (206.8) and against the run (92.8). The Crusaders are second in the nation in scoring defense (8.0 points per game).
"They don't do a lot on defense. They're not hard to figure out," Frangoulis said. "They just try to whip you up front. They say, 'We're big, we're strong, we're tough ... here we come!'"
Evangel also poses a problem for the Wildcats' defense. Quarterback Eric Black is the conference's leading passer, and Baker is ranked last in total defense.
"They've got a good, experienced quarterback and excellent receivers," Frangoulis said. "They usually get it done on first and second down.
"They've got a good, balanced attack. Last year we stopped their run, they came out in the second half, threw the ball and beat us."
Frangoulis said despite the caliber of Baker's opponent, the team thought it could extend its three-game winning streak.
"They're confident and excited. " Frangoulis said. "We're knocking on the door for first place. The pressure is on Evangel, not us. They're supposed to be here. We weren't."