BOURBONNAIS, Ill. - One year after completing the biggest year-to-year turnaround in school history, Olivet Nazarene University's football team took the field on Saturday, Aug. 25, in the hopes of continuing the program's recent progress.
Against No. 3 Marian University (Ind.), the Tigers (0-1) hung tough, but the stout Knights' defense, combined with a few untimely turnovers, proved too much to overcome as Olivet fell 35-0 at Ward Field.
The Tigers (0-1) won their final three games of the 2011 season and earned a vote in the spring NAIA Top 25 poll. But against Marian, a national semifinalist last season, the Tigers couldn't maintain that momentum.
"It's tough when you have to be ready to play the top teams in the nation with just a few weeks preparation and a young squad," Olivet head coach Brian Fish said. "I know we are a better team than we feel right now, but that doesn't necessarily make us feel better."
Olivet forced Marian to attempt a 4th-and-2 on its first drive, a play in which Olivet's Mark Kosrow (Elk Grove Village, Ill.) came up with a big tackle and forced a turnover on downs. But the Tigers failed to take advantage, and Marian countered with a nine-play, 82-yard touchdown drive and gave the Knights a lead they would never relinquished.
The Tigers cost themselves chances to get back into the game. In the second quarter, Olivet's first two drive attempts resulted in fumbles lost at their own 25-yard line. Both fumbles resulted in Marian touchdowns.
The Tigers' defense clamped down in the third quarter and held Marian scoreless thanks to the efforts of two sophomores: Myles Toney (Dolton, Ill.) had two tackles for losses, including a sack, and Caleb McKinley (Orlando, Fla.) forced a fumble that was recovered by the Tigers.
In the third quarter, Olivet's offense seemed poised to break through. Sophomore quarterback Rico Prestia (Elk Grove Village, Ill.) dumped a short pass off to sophomore running back David Payne (Chebanse, Ill.),who ran the ball 77 yards to the Marian 3-yard line. But the play was called back due to an illegal block in the back, and the Tigers were eventually forced to punt.
A setback in the season opener won't keep the Tigers from maintaining a positive attitude.
"We're going to continue to fight and improve each week," Fish said. "It's what we do, and I expect nothing less."
Defensively, the Tigers finished with six tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Freshman linebacker Lance Craft (Onondaga, Mich.) led the Tigers with eight tackles and junior Ben Backstrom (Chicago, Ill.) finished with eight tackles, one pass breakup and a half tackle for loss.
Marian quarterback Adam Wiese threw for 180 yards and two touchdowns, and Tevin Lake ran for 105 yards and two scores.
Olivet will be put to the test again on Saturday, Sept. 1, against the defending NAIA national champions, top-ranked St. Xavier University (Ill.). The game is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Ward Field.
L, Olivet Nazarene University - 0;
#3 Marian University (Ind.) - 35