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The Journal Gazette

Friday, December 16, 2016 7:28 pm

Saint Francis, Baker ready to play

Greg Jones | The Journal Gazette

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Saint Francis and Baker (Kansas) wrapped up a busy week of activities leading up to Saturday’s NAIA football championship game. There was a trip to the famed Daytona International Speedway, a visit to a local hospital and a local high school to talk to some of the youth of Daytona Beach.

“It exposed us to a lot of things in the Daytona community,” Saint Francis defensive end Lucas Sparks said. “It was like jammed packed the last couple of days, and we didn’t have any time to do anything. You were always doing something.”

Oh, and they prepared for a football game at Municipal Stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday. The No. 4 Cougars (12-1) and No. 2 Wildcats (14-0) play for all the marbles in the NAIA in what was called a bowl-like atmosphere in the 4-5 days leading up to the big game.

“It was pretty good,” Saint Francis’ Piercen Harnish said of the practice week. “It was a lot better atmosphere practicing this week. It wasn’t negative-13 (degrees), and we got to practice in 74 (degrees).”

Friday capped off the festivities with the NAIA Champions of Character banquet at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach. Jason Nicodemus was Saint Francis’ winner, while Logan Brettell was Baker’s winner.

Brettell also took the home the big silver football trophy at the end of the evening by winning the NAIA Player of the Year award. He threw for 4,800 yards and 51 touchdowns this season and will be a focal point for the Cougars on Saturday.

“It is great opportunity to go out there and show just how good we are,” Sparks said. “It’s going to be a challenge because he is a really good player. It’s motivation to show what you are made of against that type of offense.”

Baker averaged 49 points per game and statistically is one of the top 3 offenses in the NAIA.

“That does get us going to see just how good he is,” Harnish said. “Defensively our goal is just to limit them to running the ball and see if he can actually beat us passing.

“Our coaches said Reinhardt was the No. 1 offense, Morningside was No. 2 and now Baker is No. 3. We have been faced with the best, and to be the best you have to take the best. That’s what tomorrow is going to prove, and we just have to go out there and take care of business.”

So the most fun for players, coaches and the fans who made the trip to Florida will have all week will be Saturday when the teams put on a show to see who is the top team in the NAIA this season.

It should be a good one.