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ST. LOUIS – [2014 SCHEDULE] After nearly a year of anticipation, the Missouri Baptist University football program made one big step toward its inaugural season in 2014. On Tuesday, the team announced its 2014 schedule, featuring several future conference opponents and three, NCAA Division I adversaries.
Missouri Baptist announced both the addition of football and the hiring of former McKendree University assistant, Jason Burianek, in March of 2013. This year the University and the football program shifted its focus from celebration to putting a competitive product on the field in its first season.
The 2014 schedule features several intriguing games, most notably the three NCAA Division I opponents.
"We have a very difficult schedule ahead of us, but one that will teach us a lot," said Spartan Head Coach, Jason Burianek. "As coaches and players we want to play talented teams and we have built the schedule to give our guys the opportunity to measure themselves against some quality programs."
The Spartans' historical inaugural game will kick-off in Cape Girardeau, Mo., as the team will head to its first Division I game against Southeast Missouri State at Houck Stadium.
The Redhawks are coming off a 3-9 season and are also going through a season of firsts as the team has hired Tom Matukewicz to replace eight-year head coach Tony Samuel in 2014. Last season, Southeast posted wins over Murray State, Urbana and Austin Peay. The Thursday night clash with Missouri Baptist will be the first game of Matukewicz's tenure.
The inaugural game against Southeast will be the beginning of the three-game road swing before the team will head back to St. Louis for the home opener against William Penn University. That road swing will include another tough customer in University of Saint Francis (Ind.).
The Cougars ended the season as the No. 6-ranked NAIA team in the nation and plowed their way to a 9-3 record and a berth into the NAIA National Championship Quarterfinals before losing to then-No. 1 University of the Cumberlands. Missouri Baptist will see a lot of Saint Francis as both teams will be part of the Mid-States Football Association in the Mideast Division beginning in 2015.
The final game of the first road trip will end with second-year program, Oklahoma Baptist on Sept. 13 in Shawnee, Okla. Last season, the Bison went 3-8 with wins over Southwestern University, Wayland Baptist and Texas College. The team also dropped a three-point thriller to then No. 24 Bacone College.
As the Spartans open-up the home schedule, the team will host one of the newest members of the Heart of America Athletic Conference, William Penn University. The Statesmen were 5-6 a season ago and featured a deadly rushing attack, which was ranked fourth in the nation in rushing offense per game (274.5 yards per game average).
MBU will head back out to the road for four consecutive games, its longest of the season, beginning on Sept. 27 when the team travels just across the Mississippi to Lindenwood University-Belleville.
The Lindenwood Lynx will be entering their third season in existence and have won four games in each of its past two seasons. Last year, the team began the campaign with three wins in its first four games, the only loss to a nationally ranked St. Francis (Ill.) team. LU, however, suffered through a six-game losing streak and ended the season with a 4-7 mark.
The game against Lindenwood will mark the first game between the future conference opponents, as the Lynx were also accepted into the Mid-States Football Association last year and will enter along with the Spartans in 2015. The contest will also mark the first time that Jeff Fisher and Jason Burianek will face each other as head coaches. Both served on the McKendree University staff together prior to their time with their current institutions.
On Oct. 4, the Spartans will head to Bolivar, Mo. to face NCAA Division II opponent, Southwest Baptist University. The Bearcats were 1-10 a season ago and picked-up its lone win against Missouri Southern State University.
Though the Spartan schedule will be difficult, the coaching staff is confident in its patience to build a championship-contending team.
"Building a program is a process that takes time and patience," remarked Burianek when asked about building a football program from the ground-up. "It has been a great recruiting tool to tell young men that they will get a chance to play at a very high level and I think it will be a great measuring stick for us as we move forward and work to build a championship-contending team."
The Spartans travel to the second of their three NCAA Division I games on Oct. 11 as the team journeys to Valparaiso, Ind., to take on Valparaiso University. The Crusaders were 1-10 in 2013 and picked-up their lone win against Campbell University at home. Missouri Baptist will be looking to play spoiler at Brown field against the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) team.
The Crusaders have won just three games in the last four seasons and have not reached the postseason since 2003.
The four-game road swing ends on Oct. 18 with a game against NCAA Division II opponent, Tiffin University in Tiffin, Ohio. The Dragons were 2-9 a season ago with wins over Malone University and South Dakota School of Mines. Tiffin averaged 24.5 points and 369 yards per game in 2013.
The Spartans return home on Oct. 25 for an early evening tilt with NAIA foe, Arizona Christian. The Firestorm will also be in their first season of football play in 2014.
Homecoming at Missouri Baptist turns a new page as MBU football will become the featured athletics event of the weekend. On Nov. 1, Haskell Indian Nations comes to town. The Indians finished with a 2-7 record last year with a win over Trinity Bible College and a forfeit win over Cole College. The NAIA opponent plays in the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference.
The Homecoming game in 2014 will also mark a major part of the celebration of Missouri Baptist's 50th anniversary. Several events will surround the game throughout the week and will be announced closer to the start of the 2014-15 school year.
Just as the Spartans begin the year with an NCAA Division I opponent, they will end the season in the same manner as the team will head back on the road to Campbell, N.C. to face Campbell University.
The Fighting Camels went 3-9 in 2013 with wins over Virginia-Wise, Stetson and Davidson. The team's last winning season came in 2011 when Campbell went 6-5 overall and 5-3 in Pioneer Football League play. The team will be led by 6' wide receiver Ben Bollig. The junior averaged 45 yards per game a year ago, including a 210 yard receiving day against Marist College.
"As an independent team with no built in games it was a difficult process to find teams that had open dates in October and November," said Burianek. "In order to fill a schedule we were forced to play a variety of teams at all levels, but we also have teams on our schedule that I believe we can compete with."
The Spartans, and Burianek, now shift their entire focus to recruitment heading into National Signing Day on Feb. 5 and to filling-out the remainder of the roster heading into the 2014-15 school year.
"This is an exciting time to be at Missouri Baptist with our inaugural season this Fall," said Burianek. "Now that we have our schedule finalized, it allows us to focus on 2014 and have the knowledge of whom we will face."