CHICAGO – For the first time in this millennium, the top two football teams in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) will square off in a regular season showdown to determine which team deserves to be dubbed the best. No. 1 ranked Saint Xavier University (4-0 overall) will face its toughest test to date this season when it opens up its Mid-States Football Association (MSFA) slate at noon (eastern) Saturday against No. 2 University of Saint Francis (Ind.) at Bishop John M. D'Arcy Stadium in Fort Wayne, Ind. It has been over 12 seasons since the NAIA has had such an epic pairing during the regular season.
The last time the top two ranked teams met for a NAIA regular season match-up was back on September 11, 1999, when No. 1 Azusa Pacific University (Calif.) defeated No. 2 Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.), 21-14, in Bourbonnais, Ill. Coincidentally, that date is also the same day that current Saint Xavier University head football coach Mike Feminis coached his first career game, a 42-38 loss to none other than University of Saint Francis (Ind.). Feminis has since built the most successful collegiate football program in Illinois in terms of wins with a 96-30 record over the past decade to go along with six NAIA postseason appearances (2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010) over the stretch. His career record now stands at 106-40 in his 13thseason as a head coach, all at SXU.
"I guess it can't get any bigger than this in the regular season and both of us know what it's like to play in pressure games, especially against each other," said Feminis. "The last six times we've played them has either been a playoff game or a regular season match-up that determined the conference championship. I have to believe that this is one of the best rivalries in small college football and I know there's a mutual respect. If you're a small college football fan, the only place to be on Saturday, in my opinion, is Fort Wayne, Ind. It should be an unbelievable atmosphere and I'm sure the game will live up to its billing."
Despite the higher rank, Saint Xavier will face the ultimate road test this weekend playing in a stadium where Saint Francis (Ind.) has won 62 of its last 63 home contests. However, the lone blemish on that run came on November 7, 2009, when SXU ended USF's 56-game home win streak that dated back to November 1, 2001. Saint Xavier has also won both meetings since that date, including a 40-21 postseason victory in the quarterfinals of the 2010 NAIA Championship Series last November at Bruce R. Deaton Memorial Field in Chicago.