St. Ambrose defensive back Jordan Bell was hoping to win West Coast bragging rights on Saturday in the NAIA Football Championship Series playoff game between his Fighting Bees and the Southern Oregon University Raiders.|
"It's very disappointing,'' he said of the season-ending 45-28 loss at Brady Street Stadium. "I'm from California and actually got recruited to both schools. I chose St. Ambrose because I thought it was a better fit and still feel it is, even with the loss.''
The junior from Pasadena, Calif., now hopes this loss can lead to bigger and better things for the program. For a while on Saturday, the Fighting Bees looked liked a club that could compete with the best teams in the country, leading 28-17 at halftime. Ultimately, though, too many mistakes and not enough offense in the second half proved costly.
The Bees now are in good shape to make those strides toward national prominence. The Bees finished 9-2, losing only to teams ranked No. 9 (Grand View, 29-26 in double OT) and the 10th-ranked Raiders. Along the way, SAU also beat four Top 25 ranked teams.
SAU had only seven seniors on its playoff two-deep roster. Two of those – defensive end Jake Hemmen, an Alleman product, and Bettendorf's Mitch Overstreet -- each have a year of eligibility left if they decided to use it. So there is plenty there with which to work.
"We've got a core groups of guys coming back, so we'll be well-experienced,'' said junior quarterback Eric Williamson. "It hurts right now, but we'll come back next year and know what to do in this situation.''
Those in the SAU camp feel as if this experience – and the entire season – will pay dividends.
"As difficult as this is right now, we do have guys coming back and we've taken some steps this year,'' said SAU coach Mike Magistrelli. "Being in the conference title hunt, making the playoffs and, for half of a football game, playing well in the playoffs.
"We have to find a way to make this a positive to learn from and move forward and be a better team as the result of this experience. I think there are a lot of young players who got a taste today. We'll all go back to work and spend the entire offseason getting ready for hopefully having this experience next year and taking advantage of it.''
Using Saturday's loss as a motivator shouldn't be a problem – if motivation is even needed.
"I don't think this group of guys needs anything to spur us on, but if it's anything, a playoff loss will do it,'' said Williamson. "I worked with these guys in the winter, spring and summer and these guys want it for themselves. I don't think they need any more motivation.''
Considering this was SAU's first playoff trip since a four-year run ended in 2008, it speaks well for the program's present and future. This could be the start of something good for the Bees.
"This is a great stepping stone for us,'' said Bell. "We got into the playoffs, got a piece of the conference, now it's get to the next step, get deeper in the playoffs.We'll be ready for next season.''
And maybe then Bell will have another shot to earn West Coast bragging rights.
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