Baldwin After trailing by at least 20 points at halftime in its last two football games, a two-point deficit at the break Saturday sounded good to Baker University's football squad.
Baker even took a 20-15 lead early in the second half against No. 22 Graceland at Liston Stadium, but the Yellowjackets rallied to throttle the Wildcats, 44-27.
Baker coach Mike Grossner said the Wildcats easily could have gone to halftime with a lead.
"I thought in the first half, we had a chance to go up a couple of scores if we hit some big plays, and we didn't execute on our big plays," Grossner said.
Baker's first score foreshadowed its inability to hold a lead. After running back John Reeves ran for a one-yard touchdown, kicker Michael Megraw's extra-point attempt was blocked by Elliot Clemons. Graceland defensive back Reggie Cox picked up the loose ball and ran it back 98 yards for a safety. What should have been at least a six-point Baker lead only was four.
To Reeves, the botched extra point was one of several plays where the Wildcats did more damage to themselves than the Yellowjackets.
"They really didn't stop us all night," Reeves said. "We stopped ourselves, and we have to give them credit for making the big plays."
Graceland entered the game with the Heart of America Athletic Conference's top-ranked offense, but Baker limited it to 15 first-half points. The Wildcats recovered two fumbles in Yellowjacket territory and forced three three-and-out possessions heading into halftime.
Baker's defense kept Graceland's passing game in check on its first possession of the second half, too. And after the Wildcats executed a seven-play, 60-yard touchdown drive that culminated with quarterback Brian Sheppard's 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Keenan Ganz, they had a 20-15 lead.
It was the last time Baker's offense -- or defense -- had much success. The Yellowjackets responded with 22 unanswered points. Quarterback Clayton Braddock, ranked first in the conference in passing, woke up late in the third quarter and dissected the Wildcats' secondary after a slow first half.
"It just seems like all year, every time we get down, we never, never think we're going to lose the game," Braddock said.
When Braddock didn't shine, running backs Julius Strong and Chris Howard took advantage of slipshod tackling to do the rest.
"I don't think we tackled well. I thought we tackled very poorly; I thought we gave up third-down conversions when it was third-and-long," Grossner said.
The Wildcats tried to rally after a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Gerrad Speer made the score 37-27, but a failed onside kick soon was followed by another Yellowjackets touchdown that assured Graceland of its seventh victory.
The defeat dropped Baker to 4-5 (overall and HAAC) with one game left next week at rival William Jewell.
"We're going to regroup this week, and hopefully we can finish the season strong and have a non-losing season," Grossner said.