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In playoffs, Cougars are ‘under the radar’

– Ready and able. That’s the state of mind and body as No. 6 Saint Francis faces No. 11 Baker University in the first round of the NAIA football playoffs Saturday.

The noon game at Bishop D’Arcy Stadium will be the first time the Cougars (8-2) have played Baker (8-2), a school from Baldwin City, Kan., that is making its first playoff appearance since 2008. As for Saint Francis, this will be its 32nd playoff game since coach Kevin Donley began the program in 1998.

Three times in three consecutive seasons – 2004-06 – the Cougars reached the national championship game and lost, each time going into the title game unbeaten.

This season, however, Saint Francis has fallen twice. It lost the third game of the season at home 15-14 when Saint Ambrose scored with 1:45 remaining, then converted the go-ahead two-point conversion. And it lost 45-38 on the road when Marian was ranked No. 1 in the NAIA and Saint Francis was wounded.

Because of the two losses, Donley thinks the spotlight has been taken off this year’s Cougars.

“I think we’re under the radar,” Donley says. “Everybody’s looking at Georgetown or (Missouri) Valley or Saint (Xavier) or Marian. There’s no way we’ll survive after the first round, according to the NAIA gurus of the world.”

Like Saint Francis, Baker enters Saturday’s game with a four-game winning streak.

Like Saint Francis, the Wildcats use a balanced offense, averaging 190.7 yards passing and 190.2 rushing.

“They’ve got a couple outstanding running backs,” Donley said. “We’ll find out how much our run defense has improved.”

Baker running back Dillon Baxter, 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, not only averages 82.5 yards per game but enters with heady credentials since he once ran in the backfield for USC.

Quarterback Josh Miller, who sat out last week’s 44-7 victory at Lindenwood-Belleville with a high ankle sprain, will play, as will leading tackler Taylor Brown, a defensive back who nursed a leg injury.

“This group is really excited and anxious to play,” Donley said. “They’re having fun.”

Note: Donley was named co-coach of the year in the Mideast League, while seven Cougars were named first-team all-MEL. This is the eighth time Donley has been MSFA MEL Coach of the Year, the 16th time in 34 seasons as a head coach he has been chosen conference coach of the year.

USF first-team selections: Running backs, Antoin Campbell; receivers, Austin Coleman; linemen, Cam Edwards and Brice Darling; return specialist Austin Coleman; defensive backs, Taylor Brown and Kory Stamps; punter, Kollin Carman.

stwarden@jg.net

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