INDIANAPOLIS – This time, Saint Francis would let the nation’s No. 1 team escape.
This time, on an overcast Saturday – two weeks removed from beating the NAIA’s previous top-ranked team on the road and hoping for a command performance against top-ranked Marian – the Cougars couldn’t hold on for one more upset, falling 45-38 in a game that went down to the day’s final heartbeat.
With the teams combining for nearly 1,000 yards of offense, 55 first downs and 19 of 25 third downs converted, it was hardly your grandfather’s brand of football. This wasn’t 3 yards and a cloud of dust. It was 17 yards downfield and a contrail; offense on speed dial; a pinball game on turf.
It was a shootout, Saint Francis senior cornerback Allen Richardson said. We knew coming into it was going to be a fistfight. We went blow-for-blow, and we knew it would come down to the last play. We knew it wasn’t going to be this easy, but we didn’t know it was going to be this hard.
Ten times, Saint Francis possessed the ball. On half of them, the Cougars scored a touchdown. They had a field goal on another. Three times, Saint Francis turned the ball over – twice on interceptions and once on a fumble. Just once, it ran out of downs, and that was on the game’s final series.
Tevin Lake’s third 1-yard touchdown run gave Marian (6-0, 3-0 Mid-States Football Association Mideast League) a 45-38 lead with 6:37 remaining.
In less than 6 minutes, the Cougars (4-2, 2-1) had a first-and-goal from the Marian 5 with 42 seconds left.
A run up the middle from Andre Turner got Saint Francis 2 yards. And on the second down, Marian’s defense made a crucial stand when it not only stopped Saint Francis tailback Antoin Campbell for a 9-yard loss on a pitchout to the right, but, because Campbell’s halfback pass did not reach the line of scrimmage, intentional grounding was called.
It was a designed halfback pass, said Campbell, who ran 27 times for 141 yards. They were in man coverage and they didn’t come off of it. There was nothing for me to do. They had me covered, and they had the receiver covered, so I just had to throw it out of bounds – not waste the clock or get sacked.
Quarterback David Yoder, who torched Marian early for three touchdown passes that gave Saint Francis a 21-7 lead, missed on his last two throws, the final attempt as time expired.
It hurts because of the way we came out and fought right away, said Yoder, who completed 27 of 45 passes for 322 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
We’ve got four more games left, Yoder said. We’ve got to win them all. Every week is playoffs now; can’t lose a game if we want to make it in (the playoffs), so we’ve got to come out fighting all four games.
The Cougars, who won at then-No. 1 Saint Xavier two weeks ago, simply couldn’t stop the Marian offense.
After the Knights punted their first two series (finally getting on the board with a fumble returned for a touchdown), their offense scored five touchdowns and a field goal.
We felt that before the ballgame, this would be a battle of the best, Cougars coach Kevin Donley said.
We didn’t quite get it pulled off.