Senior QB Anthony Kropp threw for a school-record 570 yards Saturday
Senior QB Anthony Kropp threw for a school-record 570 yards Saturday
(10)University of Saint Francis (Ind.)
(3)Saint Xavier
Football - Sat, Nov. 27, 2010

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 they have."

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).