It's been a big season of transition for the Lindenwood-Belleville football program, and not just because it has a new head coach.
The Lynx are in their first year in the rugged Mid-States Football Association, which some consider a sort of SEC of the NAIA.
A current member of the two-division league has appeared in the national championship game five of the last 10 years. Through the third week of this season, four MSFA teams are ranked in the top 15 nationally, and one other remains undefeated.
The 1-2 Lynx's initiation to MSFA has been a mixed bag so far, having won their week 2 game against Olivet Nazarene, but lost in the opener to Sienna Heights and to St. Ambrose in last week's game.
“If you can compete in this league, you can compete for a national championship,” said LU-B head coach Dale Carlson. “For us it’s a matter of lining up week in and week out and seeing how we compare and apply what we learned to getting better.”
Saturday, LU-B returns home for another Mideast division game that threatens an even harder test than its first three. The 14th-ranked St. Francis Cougars, who jumped three spaces on this week's poll, will be in Belleville Saturday. They currently hold the NAIA's longest streak with 173 consecutive weeks with a national rank.
When you are out recruiting you can tell players that they have the chance to compete week in and week out against the best teams at our level. If we can be competitive, we’ll compete on a national level. That’s a powerful selling point to recruits.
LU-B head coach Dale Carlson
SATURDAY'S GAME: No. 14 St. Francis Cougars (3-0) at Lindenwood-Belleville Lynx (1-2), 1 p.m. Saturday.
SERIES HISTORY: This is just the second meeting of the two teams. St. Francis defeated LU-B, 44-7, in the final week of the 2012 season.
LAST WEEK: St. Francis put a 45-3 homecoming beating on Trinity International; LU-B fell to 48-26 at St. Ambrose.
SCOUTING THE LYNX
Despite it's week 2 loss, the offense continued to show progress. Quarterback Tarean Austin — who started as a freshman at NCAA Division I New Mexico before two transfers landed him at LU-B — had his best game as a Lynx. He completed 16 of 30 pass attempts for 184 yards with three second-half touchdown passes.
Kam Harris, for the second week in a row, topped 100 yards with 125 net yards on 24 attempts. On the season, the Althoff graduate has 305 yards and is averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Walter Jackson is the team's top receiver with 12 catches for 231 yards and a pair of scores.
But penalties and a pair of turnovers were costly.
“We are playing competitive, but not playing smart,” Carlson said. “We have hurt ourselves with a lack of execution and discipline, especially in the two losses, and we have to find some consistency. This week hasn’t been so much about St. Francis, but what we have to do to execute, protect the football, and be smarter.”
The LU-B defense is surrendering 38.7 points and 411.3 yards per game.
SCOUTING ST. FRANCIS
St. Francis head coach Kevin Donley is the winningest coach in NAIA history at 278-127-1. This is his 17th season at St. Francis with three previous stops in his 35-year career. He won an NAIA national championship in 1991 as the head coach at Georgetown College in Kentucky and was named the NAIA National Coach of the Year.
Donley launched the football program at St. Francis in 1998 and his son, Patrick, is his offensive coordinator.
Their high-powered offense, which averages 50.7 points per game, is led by sophomore quarterback Nick Ferrer, who was named the Mid-States Football Association Offensive Player of the Week each of the last two weeks and the NAIA national player of the week in week 2.
He ranks in the top nationally in four categories — No. 2 in pass efficiency (228.9), No. 3 in passing yards per game (321), No. 5 in total offense per game (319), and No. 8 in total passing (963 yards). His 957 yards of total offense ranks him No. 11 in the country.
“Playing a team like St. Francis is just another step for us,” Carlson said. “They are what we want to become. I’m looking forward to the challenge and I think our guys are too.”
Defensively, St. Francis has surrendered an average of 20 points per game, but that includes a 48-42 shootout with the high-octane offense of Taylor University in week 2.
LU-B is back on the road to Missouri Baptist in Chesterfield, Mo. for a 4 p.m. game next Saturday. St. Francis faces off with MSFA rival and No. 8 ranked Marian University.