Football - Sat, Nov. 17, 2007
CHICAGO - As usual it came down to the final minute of the game, but in the end No. 10 ranked Saint Xavier University (Ill.) prevailed to claim a 33-27 decision over No. 7 St. Ambrose University (Iowa) Saturday in the first round of the 2007 NAIA Championship Series at Bruce R. Deaton Memorial Field in Chicago. With the victory, the Cougars (10-2 overall) advance to the quarterfinals of the NAIA postseason for the second straight year and will learn their opponent and game site Sunday (November 18) at 12 p.m. CST. Following Saturday's game, freshman wide receiver Mike Maher (Plainfield, Ill./Providence Catholic) and junior defensive back Chris Rodgers (Homewood, Ill./Homewood-Flossmoor) were named the NAIA Offensive and Defensive Players of the Game, respectively.

"Every time we line up against St. Ambrose, it comes down to the very end," said Saint Xavier football coach Mike Feminis. "If there is a better rivalry in small college football, I haven't heard of it. I thought both teams played their hearts out and never quit and, at this time of the year, that is all you can hope for. I'm just excited that we came out with the victory."

SXU had plenty of playmakers in Saturday's playoff win highlighted by Maher's 11 catches for 103 yards and late fourth-quarter touchdown. Two more offensive heroes were junior running back Jason Banning (Wilmington, Ill./Northern Illinois/Wilmington) with 17 carries for 87 yards and two touchdowns and senior kicker Shane Longest (Wilmington, Ill./Wilmington), who finished with four field goals (25, 35, 20, and 35 yarders) and three extra points for 15 points. Rodgers and junior linebacker Joe Miller (Chicago, Ill./Gordon Tech) led a stingy Cougar defense that allowed just 28 net rushing yards on 19 carries (1.5 yards per carry). Rodgers finished with eight tackles and an interception return for 31 yards, while Miller also posted eight tackles in addition to a tackle for a loss of two yards and three quarterback hurries.

The Fighting Bees (8-3 overall) opened the game's scoring with a 23-yard touchdown pass by senior quarterback Jim DuPage to sophomore wideout Kyle Korth with 10:44 to play in the first quarter. Big plays in the second quarter by SXU's defense (an interception, a sack, and a fumble) helped create numerous scoring opportunities for the offense. The Cougars opened the second quarter with back-to-back field goals by Longest to cut the SAU lead to one, 7-6, with 9:52 remaining in the first half. Following the sack and fumble, the Saint Xavier offense needed just three plays to pick up 19 yards and take its first lead of the game, 13-7, on a five-yard run by Banning midway through the second quarter. St. Ambrose then answered on its ensuing possession with an 11-play, 68-yard drive capped by a 25-yard touchdown pass by DuPage to sophomore wide receiver Michael Hayward. However, the Cougars were able to steal back the lead before halftime, 16-14, on a 20-yard field goal by Longest with 19 seconds to play.

The third quarter was all SXU as the offense used long drives to gobble up time on the clock. The Cougars had its offense on the field 12 of the 15 minutes of the third quarter and rattled off 10 unanswered points, a one-yard run by Banning and a 35-yard field goal by Longest. Trailing 26-14 heading into the fourth quarter, the Fighting Bees narrowed the margin with a two-yard run by junior running back Brennan McCarron at the 12:21 mark of the final quarter cutting the lead to five, 26-21. On the ensuing drive, senior quarterback Billy Yeo (Matteson, Ill./Western Michigan/Rich South) found Maher from 26 yards out with 3:10 left in regulation to cap a 16-play drive. Things looked bleak for SAU trailing 33-21 with less than three minutes to play, but with 39 seconds remaining DuPage struck again with a nine-yard strike to McCarron to make the score, 33-27. The Fighting Bees recovered its onside kick attempt and drove all the way down to the SXU 20-yard line before junior strong safety Casey Weidenbacher (Naperville, Ill./Naperville North) ended the game with an interception at the nine yard line with 12 seconds to play.