In season finale, USM runs through Kansas Wesleyan
It would’ve been easy for the University of Saint Mary football team to call it quits in 2012.
Entering the season, the Spires had high hopes of competing for a Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference title. Strapped with a high-octane offense and experienced-laden defense, the goal was not attainable.
However, those aspirations quickly became distant memories.
After dropping its opener to Nebraska Wesleyan, Saint Mary suffered through a brutal four-game losing streak in September.
A month into the season and all seemed lost. Yet, that was far from reality. In fact, jump forward six weeks and that slide is now a faded nightmare.
On Saturday, the Spires closed out the year in grand fashion when it toppled visiting Kansas Wesleyan 38-23. The victory was the fourth straight for USM and its sixth straight conference win.
After starting the season 0-4, Saint Mary fought back to finish 6-5 overall, 6-3 in the KCAC and tie for third within the final conference standings. Since Sept. 22, the team had just one loss.
“Our kids stayed after it,” USM coach Lance Hinson said. “They practiced hard and stayed strong in the weight room. They never stopped being coachable and gained confidence by being more physical than our opponents.”
The game against Wesleyan was a good example of that.
The Coyotes came into the contest one game ahead of the Spires in the conference standings, giving both teams reason to fight for pride and honor.
Saint Mary struck first with a four-yard touchdown run from Marcus Mata.
Following a Coyote answer, Mata again raced for a TD, this time from one-yard out, and then a Will Ryan rushing score put the home team up 21-7 at half.
To start the third, David Harley returned the opening kick off 99 yards to give the Spires a three-touchdown lead.
Wesleyan put up a field-goal later in the period, but a third Mata rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter propelled the game ultimately out of reach.
Trevor Spaulding hit a 31-yard field goal for Saint Mary and Wesleyan added a late TD, yet both had little consequence in the 15-point USM win.
Ryan finished the game with 195 yards rushing on 28 carries and one touchdown, while Mata gained nine yards on five attempts, three of which went for scores.
Mike Keese racked up 212 yards passing on 22 completions out of 36 attempts, and Cris Basch led the team with 14 tackles — six of which were unassisted.
Keese and Basch were two of 12 seniors who enjoyed their last games wearing a Spires uniform — a group that led the rebirth of a lost season according to Hinson.
“They led by example, not by letting guys get away with things,” he said. “Opetia Tuiava and Cris Basch took care of the defense and Keese, Jerrell Young and others took care of the offense. I’m going to miss these guys.”