McKenzie, Tenn. - Senior wide receiver Mike Maher (Plainfield, Ill./Providence Catholic) finished
with 12 catches for 214 yards
and four touchdowns to lead No. 4 ranked Saint Xavier University to a 49-32
victory over Bethel University (Tenn.) in the season opener for both teams
Thursday night at Wildcat Stadium in McKenzie, Tenn. Maher tied the SXU record for touchdown receptions in a game(4) joining SXU Hall of
Famer Ed Bryant ('05) who set the mark against McKendree University (Ill.) in
1998. Despite the 17-point margin of victory, the game was a
battle all the way into the fourth quarter as the Wildcats gave the Cougars all
they could handle with both teams combining for nearly 1,100 yards of total offense. Senior quarterback Anthony Kropp (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) also had a huge night for Saint Xavier
completing 27 of his 37 pass attempts for 408 yards and five
It did not take long for SXU's high-powered offense to get into gear with Maher scoring the season's first touchdown on a three-yard reception from Kropp just 1:38 into the ballgame capping a 70-yard drive. After the Cougar defense blocked a 50-yard field goal attempt by the Wildcats, Maher struck again on a 30-yard catch in the end zone to put Saint Xavier ahead, 14-0, with 10:06 remaining in the first quarter. Following another defensive stop, senior running back Donnie Selby (Alsip, Ill./Shepard) broke a couple of tackles to pound in another score from nine yards out and extend the lead to 21-0 with 5:23 left in the first frame. The Bethel offense got into a rhythm on its next drive and scored on a four-yard pass from sophomore Will Masoud to junior Dominique Harris to close out the first quarter. However, the Wildcats had a bad snap on the ensuing extra-point attempt and trailed, 21-6, after the opening frame with SXU scoring three touchdowns despite only using just over three minutes of the quarter in time of possession.
The second quarter was a complete turnaround as the Bethel offense was able to stay on the field and eat up the clock closing to within eight, 21-13, on a one-yard run by senior Josh Boyd. The Wildcats took over seven minutes off the clock on the 14-play, 63-yard drive. Thankfully, the Cougar offense can score in a hurry and Maher found the end zone again on an 11-yard catch and run with 3:10 left to play in the first half. A couple of key sacks by the SXU defense kept Bethel off the scoreboard for the remainder of the half and the Cougars took a 28-13 lead into the break.
After both teams opened with quick three-and-outs, sophomore Cordarius Mann broke free for a 54-yard scoring scamper to make it, 28-20, at the 11:19 mark of the third quarter. The Wildcats recovered an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff to get the ball right back. The trickery paid off as Bethel marched 46 yards down the field to score again with 6:12 on the clock on a four-yard rush by Mann and closing to within two points, 28-26, after the failed two-point conversion. Sophomore Wes Gastel (Freeport, Ill./Freeport) would find pay dirt for Saint Xavier on a 10-yard run to push the lead up to nine, 35-26, with 3:38 to play in the third quarter. The Wildcats looked poised to find the end zone again with just over 11 minutes remaining in regulation when junior Ben Touzinsky (Temecula, Calif./Great Oak) picked off a Masoud pass just inside the SXU 10-yard line. The turnover proved to be a huge momentum shift as Maher broke free for a 70-yard touchdown grab just three plays later to put SXU up, 42-26. Mann would strike again for Bethel on a 34-yard touchdown catch with eight minutes to play, but the two-point try would be stopped again to make the score, 42-32. Senior Xavier Torres (Chicago, Ill./Central Michigan/Lane Tech) helped the Cougars pull away on a nine-yard catch to push the lead to 17 points, 49-32, with 5:47 remaining.
Saint Xavier (1-0 overall) continues its season on Thursday, September 2, with a Mid-States Football Association (MSFA) crossover game against former Midwest League rival University of St. Francis (Ill.). The home opener for the Cougars begins at 7 p.m. at Bruce R. Deaton Memorial Field in Chicago.
A statistical error not caught on the original night of the game was found that switched the offensive totals for Saint Xavier in one of the game's final drives. This statistical change added rushing yardage to Selby's rushing total and subtracted yardage from the previously recorded receiving yardage total of Maher. The stats linked above are the correct stats from the Thursday game.