By Zack Lundquist
Expectations were high but to say a team that lost their three year all-American quarterback, seven of eight leading tacklers, and a handful of other players, underachieved just isn’t fair. The St. Ambrose football team had an up and down year that saw many positives and negatives.
“Coming into the year we had high expectations and a number of opportunities against ranked opponents,” head coach Mike Magistrelli said. “Unfortunately we had a few key mistakes and turnovers, but I think we proved that this team and these kids can play with those kinds of teams. We just didn’t put together a full four quarters.”
Offense was a struggle all year even though the Bees returned three linemen with experience. Running backs would go for one hundred yards and a few touchdowns one game, but then follow it up with a game in which they’d combine for less than fifty yards. The passing game struggled early under a dual quarterback system as neither quarterback could get in a rhythm. It wasn’t until game five of the season that Coach Magistrelli named junior quarterback Pat Smith the starter. The offense saw a slight increase in production as they beat Olivet Nazerene on the road giving them their first winning streak of the season.
“It all starts with the running game, and once we got that going it helped our quarterback relax,” offensive lineman Jack Leibold said. “Another factor is the maturation and growth of Pat as a quarterback and leader on this team.”
On the other side of the ball the defense played out of their minds all year often keeping Ambrose in the game. In the past Ambrose was known for its high flying offensive attack often outscoring opponents. This team with new defensive coordinator Tom Anthony changed that culture with the switch to the 3-4 defensive scheme. This allowed a young linebacking core to shoot gaps and be more active in both the run and passing game. This year’s defense held opponents to 127 yards rushing per game compared to last year’s 183 yards rushing.
“We were young in terms of many of these kids hadn’t seen a lot of varsity minutes, but most of these guys had been in the program for a few years,” defensive coordinator Tom Anthony said. “It really helped having some returning players on the defensive line they were a huge part of the success of the defense.”
Unfortunately this St. Ambrose team will not make the playoffs or win conference as they dropped every game against a ranked opponent, but the scores were a little misleading. Against Grand View, William Penn, and St. Xavier the Bees were within a touchdown at some point during the second half but were just unable to pull out victories. Against unranked opponents the Bees took care of business winning all but one game, the season opener against Taylor University. They went 1-3 at home and 3-2 on the road.
“In this league anytime you can go on the road and come away victorious is huge,” Magistrelli said. “This group of kids came in with a good mindset and treated every away game as if it was all business and that really helped us get road wins.”
Looking forward to the future, the Bees return three of their starting five lineman along with starting running back Joey Zito who rushed for 648 yards and 4 touchdowns, quarterback Pat Smith who threw for 1464 yards and 15 touchdowns, and leading receiver Brad Connor who had a monster year hauling in six touchdowns. On the defensive side of the ball the Bees return most of their linebacking core including their leader Tim Davis as well as four of their top five leading tacklers. The secondary will be hit hard by losses of shutdown corner Tim Martinez and hard hitting safety Wes Fleming. In the trenches, the Bees lose anchor Steve Laski and the injured Jonah Holescheer. Holescheer’s injury allowed other players to get valuable minutes, though, and gain experience moving forward.
The Bees still have one remaining game against Lindenwood Bellevue on the road as they look to close out their season on a high note. Whatever the outcome the future looks bright for the young Bees squad.