Fort Wayne, Ind. – It was everything one could ask for in a battle between the top two teams in the nation. Momentum swings, plenty of scoring and an electric atmosphere set the stage. In the end, No. 1 Saint Xavier University rallied from an early 10-0 deficit to capture the 42-31 victory over No. 2 ranked University of Saint Francis (Ind.) in historic NAIA football action Saturday afternoon at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium in Fort Wayne, Ind. Senior kicker Tom Lynch (Frankfort, Ill./Southern Illinois University/Joliet Junior College/Lincoln-Way East) converted on five of his six field goal attempts, including a 50-yarder, and sophomore free safety Jacob Ghinazzi (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) had two huge second-half interceptions to help secure the big road win for the visiting Cougars. SXU improves to 5-0 overall with Saturday's victory and gets its Mid-States Football Association (MSFA) Mideast League slate off to a great start at 1-0.
Saint Xavier finished the game with 452 yards of total offense led by senior quarterback Jimmy Coy (Park Ridge, Ill./Valdosta State University/El Camino College/Maine South), who threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Shane Zackery (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) led the receiving corps with eight catches for 114 yards and a score. Sophomore running back Nick Pesek (Oak Lawn, Ill./Oak Lawn Community) was tough on the ground for SXU with 23 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown in addition to six receptions for 55 yards. Junior strong safety Jeremy Rhodes (Alsip, Ill./Drake University/Brother Rice) finished with nine total tackles (five solos) to lead the defensive effort, while Ghinazzi posted seven stops (five solos) to go along with his two picks.
Saint Xavier had its game-opening drive stalled by a Pesek fumble and USF was able to capitalize marching 56 yards down the field to go ahead, 3-0, on a 20-yard field goal by sophomore Kollin Carman. Later in the quarter, the SXU defense forced a stop, but on the resulting punt, the ball was inadvertently touched by Saint Xavier and the ball was knocked into the end zone and recovered by sophomore linebacker Ethan Chappell for a Saint Francis touchdown with 38 seconds left in the first quarter. Midway through the second quarter, Lynch booted his first of five field goals on the day when he connected on a 26-yarder to make the score, 10-3. Lynch struck again just five minutes later when he sent a 50-yard attempt through the uprights to make it, 10-6, with less than two minutes to play in the first half.
On the first play from scrimmage of the ensuing kickoff, senior quarterback Justin Boser hit junior Bryce Thornton for a 60-yard touchdown pass to make it a two-score game, 17-6. With the ensuing kickoff going out of bounds, SXU got the ball at its 40-yard line and two plays later found the end zone when Coy hit a wide-open Zackery from 43 yards out with 43 seconds remaining in the half. Senior defensive end Michael Prosser (Rockton, Ill./Rockton-Hononegah) intercepted a Boser pass and gave his team great field position at the USF 35-yard line and with time winding down in the half, Lynch closed the gap to one point, 17-16, with a 48-yard field goal with two seconds left.
Saint Xavier used some trickery to open the third quarter with an onside kick that was recovered by the visitors at the SXU 44-yard line. Four plays later, Coy found junior wide receiver Corey Wennmacher (Belvidere, Ill./Belvidere North) for a 33-yard touchdown strike to give the Cougars their first lead of the game, 23-17. Saint Francis answered right back with a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by junior Austin Coleman to push USF back into the lead at 24-23. SXU was not to be outdone scoring on its next possession with a 10-play, 49-yard drive capped by a one-yard run by Pesek on fourth and goal. Saint Xavier would not trail the rest of the way scoring on its next two drives, both Lynch field goals (25, 36), to extend the lead to 36-24 with five minutes left in the third quarter. Junior wide-out Wes Gastel (Freeport, Ill./Freeport) would seal the victory with his six-yard touchdown reception at the 6:41 mark of the fourth quarter. Saint Francis would find the end zone one more time on a one-yard rush by senior running back Frank Wolfe III with just under four minutes to play to make it, 42-31.
Saint Xavier (5-0 overall) heads to Canton, Ohio, on Saturday, October 8, to face Malone University (Ohio) in a non-conference match-up. The game is scheduled for a 4 p.m. (eastern) start at Fawcett Stadium in Canton.