CHICAGO - No one ever said winning a quarterfinals game
in the NAIA Football Championship Series was going to be easy. That is exactly what No. 3 Saint Xavier
University learned Saturday as No. 10 ranked University of Saint Francis (Ind.)
made things interesting all the way into the fourth quarter before SXU finally
pulled away for a 40-21 victory at Bruce R. Deaton Memorial Field in
Chicago. Senior quarterback Anthony Kropp (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) threw for a school-record 570 yards
and four touchdowns Saturday and was named the NAIA's Offensive Player of the
Game for the second straight week. In
addition, senior linebacker Brendan Sheehy (Chicago, Ill./Brother Rice) earned
the NAIA Defensive Player of the Game honor for SXU after finishing with 13
total tackles (six solos), a fumble recovery and three hurries.
Kropp completed 23
of his 50 pass attempts in the game and got huge plays from some of his top
senior targets, including running back Donnie Selby (Alsip, Ill./Shepard) and
receivers Mike Maher (Plainfield, Ill./Providence Catholic) and Xavier Torres
(Chicago, Ill./Central Michigan University/Lane Tech). Maher had team-bests of seven catches for 187
yards and two touchdowns, while Torres was right behind him with five grabs for
145 yards and a score. Selby pounded out
49 yards on 10 carries to lead the Saint Xavier ground attack, but also hauled
in a screen pass in the first quarter and took it 85 yards for the
touchdown. Senior cornerback Drew Rogowski (Griffith, Ind./Griffith) also had a big day defensively for SXU
finishing with six tackles (five solos), three forced fumbles and a 32-yard
interception return for a score.
USF came out
strong from the opening series scoring on the game's first drive with a
nine-yard run by junior Koby Frye at the 11:29 mark of the first quarter. After a three-and-out for Saint Xavier, Saint
Francis blocked the punt and recovered at the SXU 24-yard line. However, the Cougar defense held their ground
and stopped the drive by stuffing an attempt on 4th and 1 on the
15-yard line. That defensive stop would
set up Selby's 85-yard screen pass on Saint Xavier's first play of the ensuing
drive, which tied the game at 7-7.
Junior kicker Tom Lynch (Frankfort, Ill./Southern Illinois
University/Joliet JC/Lincoln-Way East) connected on a 27-yard field goal late in
the first quarter to put SXU ahead, 10-7.
With just 31 seconds left in the opening quarter, the Cougar defense
would come up with a big fumble recovery to get the ball back near midfield. SXU would capitalize on the turnover with a
scoring drive capped by a 39-yard touchdown pass to Maher to make the lead,
17-7, early in the second frame.
Turnovers told the
tale for both teams in the second quarter as a Saint Xavier fumble led to a
long scoring drive for USF when senior Jared Clodfelter caught a 12-yard pass
from junior halfback Frank Wolfe III to close the gap to three, 17-14, with
3:45 to play in the first half. Lynch
would split the uprights again from 34 yards out on the first drive of the
third quarter to put SXU up, 20-14, but the lead would be short-lived. On the ensuing kickoff, Saint Francis
sophomore Austin Coleman found a hole and returned it 96 yards for the go-ahead
touchdown, 21-20. Saint Xavier was not
to be denied though and the defense came up big again when Rogowski forced
another fumble that helped set up a 22-yard touchdown reception by Maher just
three plays later. The third quarter
would end with SXU clinging to its 27-21 advantage. However, the fourth quarter was dominated by
the home team as Saint Xavier got touchdowns on both sides of the ball with
Torres streaking 93 yards for a score in the early part of the frame and
Rogowski sealing the win just 20 seconds later with his 32-yard interception
return for a touchdown. The Torres play
was set up by a momentum-changing play by senior defensive tackle Colin Luczynski (Frankfort, Ill./Eastern Illinois University/Lincoln-Way East) with a
pick at the SXU five-yard line.
"It was a great
game and the first time this season that we were tested going into the fourth
quarter," said SXU football coach Mike Feminis.
"To beat a team as good as Saint Francis twice in three weeks and for
the third time in a year is a huge accomplishment. I'm happy for our players and coaching staff,
but this is still just one step in our main goal of winning a national championship. Next week, we will be matched up against
another great opponent and I have no doubt our guys will give it everything
Saint Xavier (13-0
overall) will face No. 2 Carroll College in Helena, Mont., on Saturday, December 4, for its semifinals game. The kick-off is scheduled for noon (1 p.m. central time).