Football - Sat, Dec. 2, 2006
Fort Wayne, Ind. - Despite 11 catches for 95 yards and a touchdown by senior wide receiver Andy Ricca (LaPorte, Ind./Michigan City), the No. 9 ranked Saint Xavier University football team had trouble slowing down the high-powered offense of No. 1 University of Saint Francis (Ind.) in the semi-finals of the 2006 NAIA Championship Series Saturday at John M. D'Arcy Stadium in Fort Wayne, Ind. Saint Francis (13-0 overall) advances to the championship game in Savannah, Tenn., on Saturday, December 16, while SXU ends its season at 10-3 overall.

Ricca, who became Saint Xavier's all-time leading receiver with a 10-yard catch in the second quarter, wrapped up a sensational collegiate career with 239 receptions for 3,213 yards, both new SXU individual career records. Jarrod Nowman owned the previous SXU receiving marks with 192 catches for 3,139 yards during his playing career from 2002-05. In addition to Ricca, sophomore quarterback Billy Yeo (Matteson, Ill./Western Michigan University) also played well for the Cougars completing 28 of his 42 pass attempts for 210 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Junior kicker Shane Longest (Wilmington, Ill./Wilmington) added two second-quarter field goals of 30 and 27 yards, respectively.

Saint Francis wasted no time getting on the scoreboard with an 80-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Daniel Carter on the game's second play from scrimmage. Staring down an early 7-0 deficit, SXU marched down the field on its first drive of the game and got all the way down to the one-yard line. However, on third and goal, junior running back Jason Banning just missed crossing the goal line to bring up fourth down. A false start penalty on fourth down pushed the ball back to the five-yard line and SXU lined up for an apparent field goal attempt. However, the Cougars faked the attempt and the USF defense was able to get the stop at the four-yard line to turn the ball over on downs.

A eight-play, 96-yard drive by Saint Francis was highlighted by a 67-yard pass reception by senior wide receiver Bo Thompson from senior quarterback Erik Hooks. Hooks connected with freshman running back Taylor Vieck for a 13-yard catch in the corner of the end zone to cap the drive and put USF ahead, 14-0. Carter struck again just seconds into the second quarter breaking free for an 81-yard run for a score, his second 80-yard-plus touchdown run of the game. After a three-and-out for SXU, Saint Francis added its fourth straight touchdown on an 18-yard reception by Thompson to build a 28-0 lead with 10:01 to play in the second quarter.

Longest chipped into the big lead with a 30-yard field goal with 5:36 remaining in the first half, but Hooks was able to lead USF back down the field for a touchdown hooking up with junior wide out Zach Rainey from 18 yards out to go up, 35-3. Longest ended the first half with a 27-yard field goal to send Saint Xavier to the locker room trailing 35-6. The second half started on a sour note for the Cougars with a fumble on the opening kickoff to give USF good field position at the SXU 33-yard line. Saint Francis took advantage of the miscue eventually punching it in on a six-yard rush by freshman running back Marcus Rush. SXU answered on its next possession with a 15-play drive capped by a seven-yard touchdown catch by senior wide receiver Greg Gerritsen (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East).

Leading 42-13, the Saint Francis offense continued to find the end zone scoring on its next possession of the third quarter on a 15-yard rush by Hooks with 3:07 left to play. In the fourth quarter, Saint Xavier used a 20-play drive to tack on its second touchdown of the game on a 12-yard connection between Yeo and Ricca with 4:16 remaining in the game. On its next possession, USF was held to a three-and-out and was forced to punt for the first and only time in the game.