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Saint Francis
vs. Saint Xavier
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Chicago
Radio: 1450 AM
Last 4 meetings
2011: SXU, 42-31
2010: SXU, 40-21*
2010: SXU, 30-6
2009: SXU, 34-26
* playoffs

USF fate turns to that of pursuer

Has lost 4 in a row to No. 1 St. Xavier

– Saint Francis is pretty weary of losing to Saint Xavier, but it has sung this refrain before.

The Cougars of Chicago have beaten the Cougars of Fort Wayne in four games over the last three years, including last season at Bishop D’Arcy Stadium 42-31.

From there, Saint Xavier went on to win the NAIA national championship.

Instead of being the hunted dog, when Saint Francis (3-1, 1-0 MSFA) ruled the Mid-States Football Association Mideast League by reaching the NAIA finals or semifinals six successive years (2003-08), it is now the pursuer.

Another opportunity to catch Saint Xavier (4-0) will come at 7 p.m. Saturday in Chicago.

“They’re the defending national champions; they’re ranked No. 1 in the country,” Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley said. “Yeah, it’s a challenge, but it’s a heck of an opportunity for us.”

The four-game Saint Xavier winning streak began in 2009 with a 34-26 victory over Saint Francis that ended the host Cougars’ 56-game winning streak at Bishop D’Arcy Stadium.

There were also the two meetings in 2010 in Chicago when Saint Xavier won 30-6 in the regular season and 40-21 in the second round of the playoffs.

There have been common threads in all four Saint Francis losses.

Saint Xavier has riddled Saint Francis’ defense through the air: 338 yards last year, 337 in the 2010 regular-season game, 570 in the playoffs and 395 in 2009.

Saint Xavier completed 112 of 193 passes with 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions in those four games.

“We can’t allow the big plays to occur,” Saint Francis defensive coordinator Warren Maloney said. “I think they had two of them against us last year that were big plays. And we had some turnovers.

“If we didn’t allow those two big scores – I don’t know how the rest of the game would have turned out – but certainly without those points, we could have won the football game.”

Maloney said Saint Xavier employs a no-huddle, hurry-up offense that waits for the precise moment to strike.

“The big play comes at any time,” Maloney said. “They just keep hammering at you and hammering at you and hammering at you until you make a mistake. We just have to be focused and do what you’re supposed to do and do it every snap. The one time you lose focus and you’re not where you’re supposed to be, they’ll get ya, and that’ll make it hurt; that’s what they do.

“The thing is, their team plays with a lot of confidence right now. You can see it on film. They’re the No. 1 team in the country, they know they’re the No. 1 team in the country and they’re going to play like the No. 1 team in the country.”

There is another element, Donley said, that has contributed to the four straight losses to Saint Xavier.

“You can’t give them the football an average of five times a game like we have the last three years,” Donley said.

Nine passes intercepted and six fumbles lost over the past three meetings have made a difficult task even more troublesome. On the other side, Saint Xavier has lost just four fumbles to the Saint Francis defense over the last three games.

stwarden@jg.net

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