Joliet, Ill. – Winning on the road is never easy, but the No. 2 ranked Saint Xavier University football team learned that winning on the road against a nationally ranked opponent is even tougher. The Cougars (2-0 overall) were able to leave Joliet Memorial Stadium Saturday night with a hard-fought 34-30 victory over the No. 24 ranked Saints of University of St. Francis (Ill.), but the outcome was not decided until the final minute of regulation. For the second straight game, SXU got nice balance out of its offense posting 173 yards on the ground and 239 through the air for 412 yards of total offense. The NAIA's No. 1 football team, Carroll College (Mont.), lost its game with Eastern Oregon University earlier Saturday giving the Cougars a good chance of moving up to the No. 1 spot when the new Top 25 poll is released late Monday.
Sophomore running back Nick Pesek (Oak Lawn, Ill./Oak Lawn Community) had 13 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown to lead the ground attack for the Cougars, while junior wide receiver Corey Wennmacher (Belvidere, Ill./Belvidere North) had five catches for a team-best 85 yards and a score. Senior quarterback Jimmy Coy (Park Ridge, Ill./Valdosta State University/El Camino College/Maine South) completed 23 of his 32 pass attempts for 239 yards and a touchdown. Coy also had an interception on the night. Senior kicker Tom Lynch (Frankfort, Ill./Southern Illinois University/Joliet JC/Lincoln-Way Central) was big for Saint Xavier with two field goals of 23 and 45 yards, respectively, and four PATs for 10 total points.
SXU got on the board first with a long 16-play drive to open the game that was capped by a four-yard touchdown run by junior wide-out Wes Gastel (Freeport, Ill./Freeport). USF used a successful fake punt to keep its next drive alive and scored on a five-yard pass by sophomore E.J. White to junior Desmond Page to tie the game at 7-7 with six minutes to play in the first quarter. An interception by Coy gave the Saints the ball back and another connection by White and Page put the home team ahead, 14-7, with just under a minute to play in the quarter. However, it took Coy just two long passes to tie the game again, 14-14, after hitting Wennmacher on a 41-yard touchdown strike just 32 seconds later.
St. Francis marched down the field again and used a 26-yard field goal by freshman Sean Murray to take back the lead, 17-14, early in the second frame. Pesek ended SXU's next drive with a two-yard run into the end zone to put the Cougars up, 21-17, and the Saint Xavier defense forced two USF punts over the rest of the half. Lynch was able to give the Cougars a boost and a seven-point advantage at the intermission, 24-17, when he connected on a 23-yard field goal attempt with eight seconds to play in the first half. Both defenses held firm on the two opening drives of the second half, but the Saints tied the game again on a three-yard pass by White to sophomore Elliot Allen with 3:57 left in the third quarter. Lynch came up big again on SXU's next drive when he pushed a 45-yard attempt through the uprights to make the score, 27-24, near the end of the quarter. Late in the fourth, senior running back KJ Franklin (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee) would give the Cougars some breathing room with an eight-yard touchdown run to push the lead to 10, 34-24. However, with less than a minute to play, White would hit freshman Lexus Jackson on an eight-yard pass to make it 34-30, following a blocked extra-point attempt. SXU would recover the ensuing onside kick to end the game.
Saint Xavier returns home next weekend to face former Mid-States Football Association (MSFA) Mideast League foe Walsh University (Ohio) in a non-conference match-up. The game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. start on Saturday, September 17, at Bruce R. Deaton Memorial Field in Chicago.