CHICAGO - Senior Nick Pesek (Oak Lawn, Ill./Oak Lawn Community) scored two of three third-quarter touchdowns, both on runs of over 20 yards, to help the No. 5 ranked Saint Xavier University football team extend its 17-10 halftime lead and roll to a 41-10 Mid-States Football Association (MSFA) crossover victory over No. 22 Robert Morris University (Ill.) Saturday night at Bruce R. Deaton Memorial Field in Chicago. The Cougars were solid on both sides of the ball racking up 521 yards of total offense, while the defense gave up just 163 total yards and recorded six sacks on the night. With the win, SXU improves its overall record to 2-1, while the Eagles drop their first game of the season at 3-1.
Redshirt freshman quarterback John Rhode (Chicago Heights, Ill./Montini Catholic) got the start Saturday for the Cougars. He completed 21 of his 34 pass attempts for 244 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Junior Nick DeBenedetti (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) was his main target with a team-best six catches for 64 yards. DeBenedetti also had one rush for 51 yards early in the second quarter that produced a touchdown. Pesek pounded out 92 yards on the ground averaging 7.1 yards per carry and finding the end zone twice, both in the third quarter. Senior kicker/punter Spencer Nolen (Columbia, Tenn./Nevada/UT-Chattanooga/Columbia Central) had a nice night as well hitting two of his three field goal attempts, including a career-long 50-yarder. His lone miss was on a 59-yard attempt.
The game got off to a slow start for both teams offensively with the two defenses setting the tone early. On Saint Xavier's second drive of the game, Rhode got the Cougars inside the RMU five-yard line, but could not punch it in and had to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Nolen. SXU carried its 3-0 lead into the second quarter, but not for long as DeBenedetti took it 51 yards on an end around on the first play of the new quarter to put his team ahead, 10-0. The Eagles responded with an eight-play drive that resulted in a 23-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Josh Techeira with 9:47 left in the half.
Later in the frame, Rhode fumbled an exchange and RMU sophomore defensive back Dru Richardson scooped it up and returned it 17 yards for the score to tie the game, 10-10, with 5:13 to play before halftime. The Cougars answered right back capping a 75-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown run by senior Dave Marciano (Chicago, Ill./Eastern Illinois/St. Rita) with 28 seconds remaining in the half to put SXU up, 17-10. Marciano, a linebacker, also led Saint Xavier in tackles with seven (two solos) along with senior linebacker Zach Dolph (Crest Hill, Ill./Joliet Catholic) with seven stops. Junior Greg Hayward (Oak Lawn, Ill./Oak Lawn Community) also had seven tackles for the Cougars, including two sacks for nine yards.
Leading 17-10 at the break, SXU came out fired up in the third quarter scoring touchdowns on three of its first four drives of the second half. The first score was off a 22-yard run by Pesek with 10:39 to play in the quarter that capped an impressive 98-yard drive. Rhode found freshman wide receiver Stephen Simms (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso) in the end zone from five yards out to make it 31-10 at the 7:39 mark. The final touchdown of the third quarter came on a 29-yard run by Pesek with 2:52 remaining. Nolen capped the opening drive of the fourth quarter and the game's scoring with his career-best 50-yard field goal with 12:59 remaining in regulation.
Saint Xavier (2-1 overall) heads to Joliet, Ill., next Saturday for a MSFA crossover showdown with area rival University of St. Francis (Ill.). The game is scheduled for a 5 p.m. kickoff at Joliet Memorial Stadium.