Joliet, Ill. – Five field goals by senior Spencer Nolen (Columbia, Tenn./Nevada/UT-Chattanooga/Columbia Central) as well as a school record-setting 81-yard punt return for a touchdown and safety on a blocked extra-point attempt by senior Dave Marciano (Chicago, Ill./Eastern Illinois/St. Rita) were the key highlights as No. 5 Saint Xavier University outlasted No. 22 University of St. Francis (Ill.) for a 37-25 Mid-States Football Association (MSFA) crossover victory Saturday evening at Joliet Memorial Stadium in Joliet, Ill. Marciano's punt return came with 6:38 remaining in the first quarter to give SXU an early 10-0 lead and beat the previous record of 77 yards set on September 3, 2009, also against the Fighting Saints. Nolen tied a school record with the five field goals in the game. Saint Xavier moves to 3-1 overall on the season, while St. Francis (Ill.) falls to 2-2.
Redshirt freshman John Rhode (Chicago Heights, Ill./Montini Catholic) completed 25 of his 37 pass attempts for 280 yards and rushed 15 times for 65 yards and a touchdown to lead the Cougar offense Saturday. Freshman wide receiver Stephen Simms (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso) also had a nice night offensively for SXU catching seven balls for 119 yards and rushing seven times for 41 yards. Defensively, junior defensive back Tyler Hoeg (Channahon, Ill./Concordia (Minn.)/Minooka) led the Cougars with nine total tackles (four solos). Two other big playmakers for Saint Xavier Saturday were senior running back Nick Pesek (Oak Lawn, Ill./Oak Lawn Community) and junior wide receiver Nick DeBenedetti (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew). Pesek rushed for 53 yards and a score on 15 carries to go along with four catches for 25 yards, while DeBenedetti hauled in seven receptions for 95 yards.
After a quick three and out by the Cougar defense to start the game, Nolen got his team on the scoreboard early when he capped SXU's opening drive with a 43-yard field goal with 10:01 remaining in the first quarter. The Saint Xavier defense forced another punt on USF's next drive and this time Marciano made the most of it breaking multiple tackles to find the end zone on the record-setting 81-yard return. Nolen extended the lead with 15 seconds left in the frame on a 32-yard field goal to push the lead to 13-0. The Fighting Saints got some momentum in the second quarter keeping the Cougars off the scoreboard with some key defensive plays and added a couple of field goals of their own to make it, 13-6, at halftime.
Saint Xavier opened the second half with a long drive of 10 plays for 46 yards, but failed to get the touchdown and had to settle for another Nolen field goal of 39 yards to make the score, 16-6. The Cougar defense forced another USF punt and Nolen came up big again on the ensuing drive capping it with a 46-yard field goal to put the visitors ahead, 19-6, with 7:06 left in the quarter. The Fighting Saints got a wild fourth quarter off to a hot start when senior quarterback E.J. White hit junior Troy Torrence for a 19-yard touchdown to narrow the deficit to six points, 19-13, with 13:35 left in the game. White came into Saturday's game leading the NAIA in both passing yards (363.7) and total offense (437.7) per game. Nolen answered the call again on SXU's next drive with a 30-yard field goal to make it a two-score game again, 22-13, at the 11:14 mark.
White responded quickly hitting Torrence in stride for a 73-yard touchdown strike on the first play of the ensuing drive. However, Marciano came up huge again when he returned the blocked extra-point try to the opposite end of the field for a safety. Leading 24-19 after the safety, Rhode scored Saint Xavier's first offensive touchdown of the night on a three-yard scramble with 8:43 left to play to extend the lead to 30-19 after the extra-point attempt was blocked. The Cougar defense came up with another big stop and the offense put the game away when Pesek found a hole and scored on a 22-yard run down the right sideline to make it, 37-19. The Fighting Saints added a late touchdown on a six-yard keeper by White, but failed on the two-point conversion to complete the game's scoring.
Saint Xavier (3-1 overall) returns to Bruce R. Deaton Memorial Field in Chicago next Saturday (October 5) for its annual "Homecoming" game. The Cougars take on No. 7 ranked Grand View University (Iowa) in MSFA Midwest League action with kickoff slated for 5 p.m.