It’s put up or go home time for Spires

Two teams couldn’t enter the fray coming off of any polar opposite stimuli than the University of Saint Mary and Kansas Wesleyan football teams.

Two weeks ago, the USM Spires suffered a 60-14 home defeat to nationally-ranked Dakota Wesleyan, while KWU took care of business in Salina against a good Concordia (Nebraska) team, both contests being a part of the GPAC/KCAC Challenge.

On Saturday, the two meet again in the opener of Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference play in Salina at 1:30 p.m. with plenty to play for.

The Coyotes will aim to get revenge for a 38-24 beating they took in Leavenworth last year as the Spires wrapped up the program’s best season – 8-3 – in school history.

For the Spires, this is a chance to get off the deck after a humbling defeat that makes a duplication of last year’s tie-for-second-place 7-2 KCAC mark probably not good enough to get NAIA playoff consideration, something they just missed out on in 2016.

They will have to do more.

“We need to go 1-0 right now,” USM head coach Jay Osborne said. “Every game is a playoff game for us. The Sterling loss last year bumped us out of contention. If you are tracking our 7-2 last year, 8-1 is necessary, but still probably won’t get us in. Any game we play is a must win for the program in my opinion. We have to play with a ton of fire, passion and on assignment.

“Kansas Wesleyan is ranked and playing with confidence. They are similar to Dakota Wesleyan as they are not weak in any one area. They are a solid football team. We must create mismatches on special teams and be at our best.”

Since that rough home loss Sept. 2, the second of two home games to open the season, the Spires have needed to reevaluate themselves a bit.

“Reality has set in,” Osborne said. “As a team, we are now working daily for the opportunities we have and taking nothing for granted. We need more time to come together as a team and play to our strengths. On that night, we were not a playoff-type football team.”

There was still plenty to take away from the game on both the good and bad sides of the ledger.

“I believe we have a team that will play until the end regardless of the score,” Osborne said. “We want to be a team that never gives up. I did like that aspect.

“(I didn’t like) our inability to play defense on third down. We did well at times, but being a 50-50 defense is not the high-end product we are looking for.”

Now it’s a wait-and-see approach for the Spires to see how the loss has taken hold of the players’ mentality.

“Obviously, we are eager to get back out there.,” Osborne said. “Two weeks between games is never easy. This game has been a home-field advantage in recent years. Dating back to 2012, the home team has won each year.

“We need to execute. We are still early in the season, but we have a bunch of things in scheme-wise. The sooner we are comfortable running them at a high level the better we will be.”