All in all, McKendree University football coach Mike Babcock was pleased a week ago as the Bearcats new-look offense and veteran defensive unit paved the way for a 33-19 opening game win over Angelo State (Texas) University.
Babcock’s message this week as McKendree prepared for another stiff non-conference test against West Liberty (West Virginia) University was simple.
“Get better. That’s what we need to do,” Babcock said on Thursday about what his grid Cats must do. “I think every coach looks at the opening week of a season and sees things that need to be corrected and things you want your football team to improve upon.
“And so our message to the kids this week is just to get better. We need to continue to get better each week if we are going to be in the hunt for the (Great Lakes Valley Conference) GLVC title and to even have a remote chance to make the playoffs.”
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McKendree (1-0) will look to follow Babcock’s directions when they host the Hilltoppers (0-1) beginning at 1 p.m. on Saturday in the friendly confines of Leemon Field. The nonconference game is the second of three for McKendree which will travel to Des Moines, Iowa. on Sept 17 to take on Drake University before returning home on Set. 24 to open GLVC play against William Jewell University.
After struggling in the first half against Angelo State, the Bearcats came alive in the final two quarters. Led by senior All-American middle linebacker AJ Wentland and Blake Benoist, who added eight tackles and an interception, McKendree’s defensive unit and special teams forced six turnovers and held their athletic foe scoreless in the final two periods.
On offense, junior quarterback Elcee Burke, filling in when starter Brenden Fred suffered a broken ankle in the third quarter, led the Bearcats to a pair of second half touchdowns. Junior running back Shayeen Edwards from Cahokia also had a good night — rushing for 101 yards.
All of which pleased Babcock.
“I was pleased. Our defense played what may have been the best game we’ve played in the four years I’ve been here. Those guys were flying around the football field and to be able to force six turnovers and hold a very athletic team scoreless in the second half, was a real accomplishment.” Babcock said. “On offense, I thought it was key that we went down and scored on our first drive. We hit a little lull there, but I think when Brenden (Fred) got injured I think the other guys kind of rallied around that. Elcee (Burk) did a nice job of running the offense.”
Babcock said that Fred, a junior, is probably done for the season.
“It’s doubtful that he (Fred) will be back this year. They had to put a screw in his ankle and he’s in a big cast right now,” Babcock said. “But to his credit, Brenden’s been at practice and is still one of the major leaders of this football team.”
Scouting West Liberty
A member of the rugged Mountain East Conference, West Liberty opened its season last week by losing 32-25 to always tough Concord University. The Bearcats, who finished 8-2 last season, used its win over West Liberty a year ago as the start of a solid campaign.
“The two things we know about West Liberty is that they’ve got a lot of speed and they are a very physical football team,” Babcock said. “They stopped us several times last year but we were able to hit on a lot of big pass plays and we got a couple of scores on defense.
“It will be interesting to see if they come in with a chip on their shoulders after last year. We just need to be ready to play a very good football team.”