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Cougars to face another No. 1 at full strength

– One No. 1 down for Saint Francis, and one more No. 1 to go.

That’s the challenge that faces the Cougars (4-1, 2-0 Mid-States Football Association) on Saturday when, two weeks after knocking off the NAIA’s top-ranked Saint Xavier team, they hit the road for a showdown with another No. 1 team – this one being Marian (5-0, 2-0).

When seventh-ranked Saint Francis won at top-ranked and defending national champion Saint Xavier 25-13, it boosted the No. 2 team at the time, Marian, into the No. 1 slot. And that gives Saint Francis the unique scheduling quirk of facing No. 1 on successive occasions.

“What a great opportunity,” Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley said. “I don’t know if anybody, in the course of the 60-some years of NAIA history, has ever had the opportunity to play No. 1 back-to-back, much less to win them.

“We’ve got maybe a little shot here at making a little history.”

Until the victory in Chicago on Sept. 29, Saint Francis’ recent history against Saint Xavier had not been good, having lost its last four games, including last year’s 42-31 setback at home when Saint Xavier was No. 1.

Then two weeks later, the Cougars lost again at home to No. 2 Marian, 40-13. The 27-point margin was the worst home loss in Saint Francis football history.

“I know that (wide receiver Austin) Coleman didn’t play,” Donley said. “I know that (running back Frank) Wolfe didn’t play. We were struggling at quarterback. Our confidence level on both sides of the ball was shaky. We did not play our best football.

“Now, that being said, we have great confidence on both sides of the ball. We have great confidence in quarterbacks – plural. We’re playing well. We’re playing hard. And we are looking forward to this opportunity.”

Coleman, arguably the team’s fastest player and No. 1 receiving threat, is available, as is Antoin Campbell, who, with a 114.6 yards-per-game average and eight touchdowns, has supplanted Wolfe as the Cougars’ top running threat.

And all three quarterbacks could be available, including starter Josh Miller, who suffered a high ankle sprain at Saint Xavier and was expected to sit out Saturday.

David Yoder, who led the Cougars in the final half against Saint Xavier, is scheduled to start against Marian, with backup Wes Hunsucker also available.

Also expected to return from injuries are inside linebackers Brody Kalbaugh and Quinn Doan.

“There’s always an attitude when you play Marian,” defensive tackle Lance Carey said. “Last year they got the best of us. We’re going to be mentally right and go out there and play a physical game with them.

“I think we kind of put ourselves in a hole in our loss to Saint Ambrose. Since then, we’ve pulled it together, and we’ve regrouped, and every day has been about togetherness, the unity of the team, passion in the game and really playing with everything you’ve got for every down and every play.”

stwarden@jg.net

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