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Cougars know little of playoff opponent

– Soon after the NAIA announced that it was 11th-ranked Baker University that was to be Saint Francis’ first-round playoff opponent Saturday at Bishop D’Arcy Stadium, Cougars coach Kevin Donley got to work, trying to find information about the Wildcats from Baldwin City, Kan.

“I know they’ve got a running back, Dillon Baxter, who started at Southern Cal,” Donley said. “And I think they’ve got a quarterback from the University of Kansas.”

With Baxter, a 5-foot-11, 210-pound running back who averages 82.5 rushing yards, and 6-2 junior quarterback Jake Morse, who spent a year and a half with the Jayhawks, Baker (8-2) has found its way back to the NAIA playoffs for the first time since 2008.

It will be the first time the two teams will meet, but Saint Francis is familiar with the Heart of America Athletic Conference, of which Baker is a member.

Saint Francis is 3-0 in the playoffs against HAAC opponents. It won at Missouri Valley 28-14 last year and beat Lindenwood (Mo.) twice – 46-36 in 2010 and 35-14 in 2007.

“It’s a good league,” Donley said.

Like Saint Francis, Baker comes in with a four-game win streak. Its only losses were back-to-back when it lost to No. 2 Missouri Valley 31-17 and No. 9 MidAmerica Nazarene 49-20.

Saint Francis’ losses have been to No. 5 Marian (No. 1 at the time) and No. 8 Saint Ambrose.

And like Saint Francis, Baker has a balanced offense. The Wildcats average 190.7 passing and 190.2 rushing yards.

“You can’t load up your defense,” Donley said. “You can personnel group certain things, but they don’t live by the run or the pass. They’ve got a great running back, a guy who can throw it and a bunch of guys who can catch it.”

Baxter played 10 games for USC in 2010, including starting against Arizona State.

Against Virginia, he had nine carries and 49 yards, and against Washington State, he had 75 yards on 14 carries. He also threw a 5-yard touchdown pass against UCLA.

“It’s a challenge,” Donley said of playing against a player with Baxter’s pedigree. “It gets kids excited.”

Donley said he hopes to have defensive starters Kevin Bush and Taylor Brown and starting quarterback Josh Miller back for Saturday’s game. All three sat out last Saturday’s 44-7 victory at Lindenwood-Belleville.

“Hopefully we’ll have Bush back, Brown back, Miller back by Tuesday practice,” Donley said. “That’s wishful thinking. They were all getting treatments (Sunday).”

stwarden@jg.net

Saint Francis

vs. Baker
When: Noon Saturday
Radio: 1450 AM

Baker University

Location: Baldwin City, Kan.
Conference: Heart of America
Record: 8-2, 7-2 HAAC
Postseason history: 12th time in NAIA tournament, last appearance 2008
Offensive statistics: 31.9 points per game, 380.9 yards per game, 190.7 passing yards per game, 190.2 rushing yards per game
Defensive statistics: 20.1 points per game, 323.5 yards per game, 173.1 passing yards per game, 150.4 rushing yards per game

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