Indianapolis, Ind. - Powered by 323 yards of total offense and 31 points in the second half, No. 14 ranked (NCAA Division II) University of Indianapolis (Ind.) pulled away from No. 4 ranked Saint Xavier University to capture a 51-20 victory in college football action Saturday evening at Key Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. In his first game as a Cougar, red-shirt freshman quarterback John Rhode (Chicago Heights, Ill./Montini Catholic) had a solid effort completing 17 of his 26 pass attempts for 280 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Turnovers plagued SXU throughout the game with the visitors committing five on the night, all on interceptions.
Junior Nick DeBenedetti (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) and red-shirt freshman Sean Jones (Homewood, Ill./Homewood-Flossmoor) were Rhode's main targets Saturday each finishing with six receptions. Jones posted a team-best 91 receiving yards and a touchdown, while DeBenedetti finished with 68 yards through the air and a score as well. Freshman Stephen Simms (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso) also played well back in his home state hauling in five passes for 79 yards as well as three carries for 17 yards. Freshman Ryan Carroll (Evergreen Park, Ill./Marist) provided Saint Xavier's third score and posted three grabs for 26 yards. Senior Nick Pesek (Oak Lawn, Ill./Oak Lawn Community) led the SXU ground attack with 16 carries for 38 yards to go along with his three receptions for 13 yards. The Cougars finished the game with 419 yards of total offense with 312 of them coming through the air. Defensively, senior safety Jacob Ghinazzi (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) led the way for the Cougars with 11 total tackles (seven solos) and a forced fumble.
The interceptions hurt Saint Xavier early on as fifth-year senior quarterback Joe Gill (Munster, Ind./Western Illinois/Munster) got picked off in the end zone to stifle a potential scoring drive midway through the first quarter. UIndy took advantage of the miscue using a pair of big runs on the ensuing drive to punch in a one-yard touchdown run by Matt Ripp. Fortunately, SXU blocked the extra-point attempt and trailed 6-0 with 6:15 to play in the opening quarter. However, another Gill interception kept the Cougars from answering on its next drive. The SXU defense provided a stop and the coaching staff brought Rhode into the game for the next offensive series. Rhode moved the ball down the field, but the Greyhounds defense ended the drive with a turnover on downs.
An interception by junior Danny Lombardo (Lemont, Ill./Lemont Township) early in the second quarter gave the Cougars the ball back and this time Rhode made UIndy pay for the mistake. He led a seven-play drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown throw to Jones to give Saint Xavier a 7-6 edge. The Greyhounds answered right back marching down and scoring on a five-yard run by Ripp to go up, 13-7. The SXU offense came right back and used five plays to take back the lead, 14-13, on a four-yard TD grab by DeBenedetti. However, Klay Fiechter broke free for a 49-yard touchdown run on the ensuing drive to give UIndy back the lead, 20-14, with 5:06 left in the half. The two defenses came up big in the final five minutes leaving the score the same at halftime.
The second half did not start well for the Cougars as UIndy opened the frame with a 75-yard touchdown pass to Greg Johnson. Rhode was picked off on SXU's first offensive drive of the half and the Greyhounds turned it into a field goal to go ahead, 30-14, with 11:14 to play in the quarter. Rhode hooked up with Carroll for a nine-yard strike on the next drive, but failed to convert the two-point conversion keeping it a 10-point deficit, 30-20. Unfortunately for SXU, the rest of the game belonged to UIndy as the hosts added three more scores to pull away for good.
Saint Xavier (1-1 overall) returns home and hosts Robert Morris University (Ill.) on Saturday, September 21, in a Mid-States Football Association (MSFA) crossover battle. The game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. kickoff at Bruce R. Deaton Memorial Field in Chicago.