By the time backup quarterback David Yoder was summoned from the Saint Francis bench with 4:34 remaining in the third quarter, the tension within Deaton Field was electric Saturday night.
No. 1-ranked and defending NAIA champion Saint Xavier, which had trailed by as many as 19 points early in the first half, had elbowed its way back into hope when a field goal got the host Cougars within 19-10 of 10th-ranked Saint Francis with 4:40 in the third quarter.
And since Saint Xavier employs a hurry-up, no-huddle offense and plays with the immediacy of a jail break, no Saint Francis lead was comfortable.
So when Yoder threw an interception on his second play from scrimmage – a pass that was returned to the Saint Francis 26-yard line that would directly lead to another Saint Xavier field goal and a one-score deficit at 19-13 – there was even more cause for concern on the Saint Francis side of the field.
I told him, Dont do that anymore, Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley said.
Yoder, who was in the game after starting quarterback Josh Miller suffered a sprained ankle, provided the proper response. I told him I wouldnt.
The 6-foot-3 junior from Concord, near Goshen, was more than good to his word.
On Saint Francis next possession, beginning at his 16, Yoder led the Cougars on an 84-yard, 13-play odyssey that included three third-down conversions and a 23-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass to tight end Clayton Smith.
The fourth-and-2 roll-out to Smith for his first-ever touchdown seemingly took the air out of the Saint Xavier homecoming balloon.
Thats definitely the biggest moment of my sports career, Id say, Yoder said.
But its not the first time this season that Yoder, also a center fielder and leadoff hitter for the baseball team, has bounded from the sideline to pull Saint Francis out of a fire.
Trailing by five points at halftime to Wisconsin-Stevens Point and with Miller out with concussion symptoms, Yoder completed 14 of 18 second-half passes and led the Cougars to a 39-31 victory.
Hell never have a heart attack or a stroke, Donley says of Yoder. Nothing bothers him too much.
He has that reputation, as a fun guy with a loose, devil-may-care attitude, a competitor with a wisecrack.
Donley noticed it.
Every kid is unique, he said. Every kid has their own personality, and what you want is for them to be themselves. But for him, the next joke was more important than anything else. Hes a fun-loving guy who makes people laugh, and he enjoys life.
And, like the interception, Yoder knows when to straighten up.
My first couple years here it was definitely something I needed to fight, Yoder said. I was a little too goofy and joked around a little too much. Ive gotten better. I take things a lot more seriously now.