Baldwin Baker University football fans have become accustomed to thrilling finishes.
One week after pulling out a last-minute victory over Lindenwood University, the Wildcats struck again, winning their homecoming contest against Graceland College, 16-14, on Saturday at Liston Stadium.
Driving 65 yards in the final four minutes, Baker scored on fourth down with Levi Schuck's eight-yard pass to wide receiver Mackie Valentin with nine seconds left.
"I thought I'd live to be 50 years old, but now I'm not so sure," said BU coach John Frangoulis, whose team lost a 20-13 overtime thriller at home to Southwestern in its first game of the season. "We preach playing 60 minutes to our players every day, and they continue to perform every game."
After calling timeout with 14 seconds left to set up the final play, Schuck rolled to his left and found Valentin in the left side of the end zone from eight yards out for the game winner. The reception was Valentin's seventh grab in the second half after being shut out the first 30 minutes. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound junior had 103 yards receiving.
"Our defense gave us a chance, and we were able to come through," said Schuck, a junior college transfer from Glendale, Ariz., who completed 13 of 16 passes for 164 yards. "We wanted the chance to show what we could do, and it feels great that we were able to come through."
BU's game-winning drive started at the Wildcats' 35-yard line. The Wildcats converted a critical fourth-and-one play with 1:21 left when Schuck plowed over the middle on a quarterback sneak to keep the drive alive.
Graceland still had one gasp left following the touchdown.
After Brant Brittingham's extra-point attempt bounced off the right upright, Graceland received the ball on a squib kick at its own 14 yard-line with eight seconds remaining.
Graceland quarterback Chris Harrington hit running back Herbert Goodman over the middle at the Yellowjackets' 30, where he promptly lateraled the ball to offensive lineman Norman Elliott. Elliott tried to pass the ball to another player, but his forward pass found the ground and drew a penalty flag as the clock ran out. Baker declined the penalty to end the game.
The win was the first by Frangoulis, now in his fourth year at BU, over Graceland during his tenure as head coach. The Wildcats' No. 2-ranked defense held Yellowjacket running back Herbert Goodman to one touchdown and 65 yards on 20 carries -- 88 yards below his average.
Graceland amassed 219 yards total offense.
"Our defense has done an outstanding job of keeping us in every football game," said Frangoulis, whose team trailed 14-0 after the first quarter. "They always play tough."
Junior linebacker Jason Montgomery had eight tackles to lead BU. Junior defensive back Mark Emry had an interception and two tackles for losses amounting to 25 negative yards for Graceland.
With the victory, Baker moved to 2-0 in the Heart of America Athletic Conference and upped its record to 2-1 overall. The victory should put the Wildcats in position to earn a spot in this week's NAIA's top 25 poll.
Next week Baker will travel to Fayette, Mo., to face Central Methodist at Davis Field. Kickoff for the Eagles' homecoming game is set for 1:30 p.m.
Baker 16, Graceland 14
Graceland 14 0 0 0 -- 14
Baker 0 7 0 9 -- 16
G -- Herbert Goodman 10 run (Jeremy Bullcoming kick).
G -- Steve Lovell 11 pass from Chris Harrington (Bullcoming kick).
B -- Howard Verdell 8 run (Brant Brittingham kick).
B -- Brittingham 45 FG.
B -- Mackie Valentin 9 pass from Levi Schuck (kick failed).