Helena, Mont. - Despite seven catches for 57 yards by senior wide receiver Mike Maher (Plainfield, Ill./Providence Catholic), the No. 3 ranked Saint Xavier University football team could not find its normal offensive rhythm and fell 27-5 to a tough No. 2 Carroll College (Mont.) squad at Nelson Stadium on a cold Saturday afternoon in Helena, Mont. The Cougars end their season with a 13-1 record. SXU finished the game with 231 yards of total offense and 14 first downs, which was well under its averages of 482.5 yards and 23.0 first downs through the first 13 games of the year. With the victory, the Fighting Saints advance to the NAIA National Championship game on Saturday, December 18.
Senior running back Donnie Selby (Alsip, Ill./Shepard) posted five carries for a team-best 28 yards and caught three balls for 11 yards to help lead Saint Xavier's offense Saturday. Senior quarterback Anthony Kropp (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) completed 22 of his 43 pass attempts for 195 yards, while senior wide receiver Xavier Torres (Chicago, Ill./Central Michigan University/Lane Tech) had four grabs for 44 yards.
Both defenses played well in the opening quarter with redshirt freshman free safety Jacob Ghinazzi (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) picking off a Carroll pass attempt in the end zone to stall a potential scoring drive by the Fighting Saints. Carroll got on the scoreboard first with 12:03 left to play in the second quarter when junior wide receiver Matt Ritter took a direct snap and scrambled eight yards up the middle to put his team ahead, 7-0. With the SXU offense struggling to get into a rhythm, the defense stepped up again when junior defensive tackle Patrick Appino (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) intercepted a ball at the line of scrimmage and gave the Cougars excellent field position. With the short field, the SXU offense put itself in a position to get some points when junior kicker Tom Lynch (Frankfort, Ill./Southern Illinois University/Joliet Junior College/Lincoln-Way East) split the uprights on a 25-yard field goal attempt and made the score, 7-3, with seven minutes remaining in the half.
The final two minutes of the first half saw the Fighting Saints push its final two offensive drives into field goal range and come away with six more points on a 30-yarder and a 42-yarder to go ahead, 13-3. On a 3rd and 11 play with two minutes left in the third quarter, Carroll senior quarterback Gary Wagner found senior wide-out Corey Peterson open in the back corner of the end zone and pushed its lead to 20-3 following the successful point-after attempt. SXU had a chance to put a touchdown on the board early in the fourth quarter, but a fumbled snap inside Carroll's one-yard line turned into a deflating turnover for the Cougars. The Fighting Saints capitalized on the miscue eating up precious time and marching 80 yards down the field to seal the victory on a 17-yard run by sophomore running back Chance Demarais with 11:46 to play. A blocked punt by SXU in the closing seconds made the final score, 27-5.
Saint Xavier ends its season with an overall record of 13-1 and its second straight berth in the semifinals of the NAIA Football Championship Series. The Cougars also posted their second consecutive Mid-States Football Association (MSFA) Mideast League crown and perfect regular season slate (11-0) this season.