CHICAGO - Senior linebacker Zach Dolph (Crest Hill, Ill./Joliet Catholic) set a new single-game school record with 23 total tackles (five solos) to help No. 14 ranked Saint Xavier University hold on for a 12-6 victory over William Penn University (Iowa) in Mid-States Football Association (MSFA) Midwest League action Saturday afternoon at Bruce R. Deaton Memorial Field in Chicago. Neither team scored a touchdown over the first 53 minutes of play before fifth-year senior quarterback Joe Gill (Munster, Ind./Western Illinois/Munster) found freshman Stephen Simms (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso) wide open in the back of the end zone to break a 6-6 tie with 6:23 left in the game. The Statesmen had a chance to score a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds after a missed extra-point attempt by the Cougars, but the SXU defense held firm on a 4th-and-10 play from the SXU 27-yard line with less than 10 seconds remaining. The previous single game tackles record was 20 set by both Sean Kenney and Joe Miller in the same game on November 10, 2007.
Senior kicker/punter Spencer Nolen (Columbia, Tenn./Nevada/UT-Chattanooga/Columbia Central) had a big game for Saint Xavier converting on two key field goal attempts. His attempt was a 31-yarder with 8:49 left to play in the first half to tie the game at 3-3. Nolen's second field goal tied a career-long with a booming 50-yard attempt that split the uprights with 7:53 remaining in the third quarter. It was a quiet day offensively for the Cougars, who finished with 230 yards of total offense Saturday. Junior Nick DeBenedetti (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) led the SXU receiving corps with five catches for 38 yards, while Simms hauled in four receptions for 27 yards and the go-ahead touchdown. Junior Khary Ferguson (Indianapolis, Ind./Thomas More/Cardinal Ritter) paced the Saint Xavier ground attack with 23 carries for 59 yards. Simms also had four carries for 35 yards, five punt returns for 92 yards and a pair of kickoff returns for 51 yards. He tallied 205 yards of all-purpose yardage.
The game was a defensive struggle, especially in the early goings where neither team was able to garner any type of offensive momentum on the first four drives of the game. A fumble by Saint Xavier with 9:38 to play in the first quarter proved costly as William Penn used a short drive to get into position for a 21-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead with 3:55 left in the quarter. The offensive struggles continued for the Cougars until a momentum-changing 30-yard punt return by Simms gave SXU great field position at the WPU 34-yard line with 11:13 remaining in the first half. The ensuing drive led to a game-tying field goal (31-yards) by Nolen. Neither team threatened to score again the rest of the half, so the score remained, 3-3, at the break.
After a defensive stop by Saint Xavier to start the second half, the offense put together a 10-play drive and went ahead, 6-3, on the 50-yard field goal by Nolen with 7:53 left in the third quarter. The Statesmen tied the game, 6-6, on a 42-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. Once again, the SXU offense manufactured a lengthy drive (13 plays) and capped it with the six-yard touchdown grab by Simms to take the lead for good, 12-6. WPU had two more drives in the game, but a huge sack by junior defensive tackle Greg Hayward (Oak Lawn, Ill./Oak Lawn Community) on third down stifled the first drive and a turnover on downs in the final seconds ended the second and secured the victory.
Saint Xavier (5-3 overall/2-1 MSFA) heads to Davenport, Iowa, on Saturday, November 2, for a pivotal MSFA Midwest League showdown with No. 8 Saint Ambrose University (Iowa). The game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. start at Brady Street Stadium in Davenport.