McKendree University junior All-American defensive end Lucky Baar senses there is something special occurring with the Bearcats this season.
On Saturday, it was Baar and the Bearcats defense that was special.
Getting a combined seven sacks from Baar and fellow defensive end Brett Pearman, McKendree forced two second-half turnovers and held the top-ranked offense in the Great Lakes Valley Conference scoreless in the final three quarters as it defeated Southwest Baptist University 38-13 at Leemon Field in the battle of the Bearcats.
Led by speedy quarterback Trent Edwards, SW Baptist scored on its first two possessions and led 13-7 midway through the second quarter, when the Bearcats’ top passing combination hooked up to give McKendree (4-0, 2-0 GLVC) the lead for good.
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On third-and 7 from the SW Baptist 28-yard line with just under six minutes remaining in the second quarter, senior quarterback Isaac Fisher connected with former Edwardsvile standout Cameron James on a touchdown pass to tie the game at 13. Steven O’Block added the extra point and McKendree had the lead for good.
“I got behind the defense and Isaac (Fisher) laid it right in there. It was a great throw,’’ James said. “But defense was the difference today. They (Southwest Baptist) were a a very good offensive team and our defense just shut them down.’’
The Bearcats special teams also came up with a big play.
On the kickoff to start the second half, SW Baptist fumbled and McKendree freshman Josh Cole recovered the ball inside the 25.
Fisher, who finished 30-of-42 for 326 yards then found another former Edwardsville standout, Darius Crochrell, on a 1-yard scoring pass with 12:05 left in the third quarter, giving McKendree a 21-13 lead.
O’Block added a 24-yard field goal and Fisher ran for his second touchdown of the day — an 11-yard run early in the fourth quarter — to help put the Bearcats’ Homecoming win away, as McKendree built a 31-13 lead.
The win is McKendree’s 19th homecoming victory in 20 games since reviving its football program in 1996.
But Baar and Pearman were not through creating havoc in the Bearcats backfield.
SW Baptist running back Bubba Jenkins, who rushed for a GLVC record 258 yards in a 56-33 win over Quincy, was held to 86 yards, while Edwards was also limited after the game’s first 20 minutes.
“He (Jenkins) was so elusive and quick that we had a little trouble with him early. We just had to settle down. Once we settled down and didn’t let Jenkins get on track, they were forced to throw and the defense got down to it and just did a tremendous job,’’ McKendree coach Mike Babcock said. “Pearman and Lucky just kind of feed off each other at defensive end..
“The offensive line can’t double-team both of them and they both are tough to handle with just one lineman trying to pass block on them. But the entire defense and the entire team stepped up in the second half.”
Baar had 4 1/2 sacks and Pearman added 2 1/2. For Baar, it was the second straight year he had dominated against SW Baptist. The former Chicago Morgan Park standout had 5 1/2 sacks a year ago against the Bearcats.
“There really isn’t anything special about playing them (SW Baptist),’’ Baar said. “We might have been a little soft early today, once we got going, we were fine.
“I just have a feeling this is special this year.’’
The win is McKendree’s ninth straight over the past two years. McKendree will host University of Indianapolis, the three-time defending GLVC champion, next Saturday at Leemon Field beginning at 1 p.m.