Washington Evening Journal
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Washington, IA 52353
DAVENPORT — The Iowa Wesleyan football team stayed in the game through most of the first half in its NAIA opener at St. Ambrose on Saturday, but the Bees turned it on late in the second quarter and never looked back, defeating the Tigers 45-13.
It was the first NAIA game for the Tigers in nine years. Iowa Wesleyan made the move back to NAIA after spending almost a decade in NCAA Division III.
After going down 10-0 in the first quarter, Iowa Wesleyan’s Hezekiah Hunter finished a 55-yard drive with a 9-yard rushing touchdown to cut the lead to 10-7 with 10:23 left in the second.
“They had a lot of upperclassmen on the defensive line, and we started three freshman on the offensive line,” said Tiger head coach MD Daniels. “To see the line get some push and see Hezekiah make a cut on one of the linebackers, it was very promising.”
That, however, was as close as the Tigers would get. St. Ambrose scored twice before the half was over to take a 24-7 break at the half. It would be 38-7 by the time the Tigers could score again.
Iowa Wesleyan’s second touchdown of the game came on a 3-yard pass play from Gavin Esquivel to Braedin Ross. The Bees answered with a score of their own just three minutes later.
“As the game went on, their experience and their strength pretty much wore us down,” Daniels said. “It just wore on us.“
The Tigers had over 300 yards of total offense and earned themselves a handful of red zone opportunities. Coach Daniels said not converting on those and a few bad penalties on the defensive side hampered his squad.
“We had a lot of opportunities to put some points on the board and to stop them,” Daniels said.
Esquivel went 25-for-44 with 218 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the loss. Jaden Harris had six catches for 79 yards, and Kam Cole caught six passes for 60.
Major Niccum led the Tiger defense with 10 tackles. Kaden Henley and Justin Huntley both had a fumble recovery for the two Iowa Wesleyan take-aways.
The Tigers (0-1) will play a game in Mt. Pleasant for the first time in nearly two years on Saturday when they open the home schedule against Missouri Baptist (1-0), another opportunity for the young squad to grow.
“For us, as a program, we've got to get 1 percent better every day,” Daniels said. “If we do that, down the road, we're going to be stinking good.”