It's been a trying year for St. Ambrose football.
There has been a cancelled game, injuries and inconsistencies from the offense.
At one point, the Fighting Bees suffered three straight losses to ranked teams and were 1-3 on the season.
Despite all that, St. Ambrose still is in position to win its first conference title since 2012. The Bees are undefeated in Mid-States Football Association Midwest League play heading into Saturday's game against fellow conference unbeaten and 11th-ranked Saint Xavier.
"I think our guys, they don't shy away from adversity," head coach Mike Magistrelli said. "They find a way to take it head-on and I think that our leadership within our players has been tremendous."
The Bees wouldn't be in this position if it wasn't for a defense that has allowed just 14 points in the last two games and yielded an average of 17 in three conference games.
While there are plenty of players responsible for that success, it all starts up front with defensive lineman Sam Kabureck.
The senior from O'Fallon, Illinois, has been a staple up front for most of his career. He saw playing time as a freshman and has been a starter on the defensive line for the past three seasons.
After a couple of up-and-down seasons, finally getting to be in the thick of a conference title race this late in the season is something he's enjoying.
"It's hard to explain, it's a great feeling. I came here to win football games," said Kabureck, who has 20 tackles on the season. "My senior year of high school, this place went 8-2 and we haven't been there since. I'm trying to bring back the mentality they once had and win out."
Kabureck doesn't fill up the stat sheet — he enters Saturday with 97 career tackles and 5.5 sacks — but his play has allowed those around him to make the flashy plays.
Last year, Bernard Buhake had 7.5 sacks and this season Ryan Zitkus has six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. But that wouldn't be possible without Kabureck causing problems at the line of scrimmage.
"It's just the disruption he causes," Magistrelli said. "He's in the backfield on a run play, knocking off a pulling tackle or getting in the way of a fullback, to where he might not be the guy making a tackle but he's the one freeing up another guy to make a play. He's just disruptive."
Kabureck credits his growth to those who came before him, helping him learn how to go from a high school star to the team-oriented player he is now.
Despite the lack of any gaudy stats, Kabureck's play hasn't gone unnoticed around the league as he earned first team all-conference honors last season.
"I didn't expect that at all but whenever I look back at the season, I bust my butt to do everything I can to be the player I can be, do my job for the team. Be the best person I can be," Kabureck said. "It's part of football, it's a team sport. I've got to do my 1/11th so those guys can make those plays. I do my job and those guys get the flashy plays and I'm just as excited as if I make the play. It's just part of the football mentality for me."
Though it's allowing 37.5 points per game, the St. Ambrose defense has been the biggest part of the Bees' success this year, and has particularly stepped it up in the last two weeks.
With quarterbacks Dino Borrelli and John Benckendorf both going down to injury, St. Ambrose has allowed just seven points in each of its last two games, helping freshman Declan McDonald settle in as the signal caller.
However, Kabureck said the defense didn't change its attitude but continued to go out and do all it could.
"In the four years I've been here, the defense has always had the mentality that we're going to do our job and give our offense as many opportunities we possibly can," he said. "It sucks those two guys went down, but it hasn't put more pressure on us. We just play our brand of football."
Kabureck and the defense will be tested this week against a Saint Xavier team which averages 41.9 points per game. Quarterback Alex Martinez leads the league with 2,092 passing yards.
It will put pressure on the defensive line to get as much pressure as it can so the Bees don't have to resort to the blitz too often to slow the Cougars down.
Kabureck is ready for the challenge.
"We take pride in the D-line, we always have," Kabureck said. "We're doing our jobs. We're out there to take care of business."