CHICAGO – Racking up 670 yards of total offense on the day, the No. 5 ranked Saint Xavier University football team pulled away from No. 13 Bethel University (Tenn.) in the second quarter to capture a 51-13 win in first round action of the 2011 NAIA Football Championship Series Saturday afternoon at Bruce R. Deaton Memorial Field in Chicago. With SXU clinging to a 21-13 lead late in the second quarter, a pair of touchdowns in the final four minutes of the half gave the home team the 35-13 half-time edge. The tough Cougar defense kept the Wildcats off the scoreboard in second-half action as the offense piled on 16 more points to secure the victory. After the game, Saint Xavier had junior wide receiver Shane Zackery (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) named the Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game, while senior defensive end Michael Prosser (Rockton, Ill./Rockton-Hononegah) claimed the defensive honor.
Zackery finished with game-bests of nine receptions for 203 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Prosser was equally impressive on defense with a team-leading 13 total tackles (five solos), including 1.5 sacks for 11 yards. Sophomore running back Nick Pesek (Oak Lawn, Ill./Oak Lawn Community) had a career day running the ball for the Cougars with 25 carries for 227 yards and a score. Junior quarterback Jimmy Coy (Park Ridge, Ill./Valdosta State University/El Camino College/Maine South) overcame a pair of first-half interceptions to put together a solid outing with 402 passing yards and four touchdowns. He completed 24 of his 37 pass attempts in the game.
As usual this season, the Cougars wasted no time putting points on the board and needed just seven plays on the game's opening drive to find the end zone on a four-yard rush by junior wide receiver Wes Gastel (Freeport, Ill./Freeport). On the ensuing kickoff, SXU used some trickery with an on-side kick that was recovered at the Bethel 47-yardline by freshman Nick DeBenedetti (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew). The move paid off quickly as Coy hit Zackery two plays later for 52-yard touchdown strike to push the lead to 14-0. After a Wildcat punt, Saint Xavier scored again on its next drive when Pesek scored on a 10-yard run with 8:43 remaining in the opening frame. Bethel responded on its next possession with an eight-play drive capped by a five-yard run by junior tailback Cordarious Mann that made it, 21-6, after the failed PAT attempt.
The score would remain that way for the rest of the quarter and well into the second quarter before a couple of key turnovers hurt the Cougars. A fumble deep in SXU territory gave the Wildcats the ball back at the 11-yardline and Mann found the end zone again from three yards out on the fourth play of the drive to make it a one-score game, 21-13, with 6:04 left in the half. The SXU offense got back on track though and Coy hit Zackery again for a nine-yard score just two minutes later to push the lead to 15 points, 28-13. An interception by sophomore Jacob Ghinazzi (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) on Bethel's next drive gave the Saint Xavier another chance to put points up before the half and with 2:17 to play, Gastel scored on a three-yard run to make it, 35-13, at the half. The second half was all SXU as senior kicker Tom Lynch (Frankfort, Ill./Southern Illinois University/Joliet JC/Lincoln-Way East) established a new career-long with a 55-yard field goal early in the third quarter. Zackery and Gastel also each found the end zones again on passes from Coy to complete the scoring. Zackery's score came on a 63-yard reception late in the third quarter.
Saint Xavier (11-1 overall/4-1 MSFA) now awaits the NAIA's announcement of the pairings for the quarterfinals of the 2011 NAIA Football Championship Series. The quarterfinals will take place on Saturday, November 26. With all of the top four teams ahead of SXU winning today, it is likely that the Cougars will be on the road for quarterfinals action.