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Loss still stings for Saint Francis

– A week later, the 45-38 loss at No. 1 Marian still gnaws at the insides of Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley.

“You can’t dwell on the past. It’s hard not to,” Donley said. “That was a tough loss. That was a heartbreaker. I felt like we played good enough to beat them despite being banged up on defense. Didn’t get it done.

“Now you’ve got another challenge. Now you’ve got another undefeated football team. And what they do really presents some challenges defensively, so you’ve got to alter your game plan and play assignment football against the triple option.”

“They” is William Penn, whose 7-0 record and No. 5 ranking in the NAIA poll makes the third top-five team the No. 9 Cougars (4-2) have met on the road in a four-week period.

And the triple option of which Donley speaks, passing the football isn’t one of the options.

Because of the option running game of fullback up the middle, quarterback keep or pitch to the tailback, the Statesmen lead the NAIA in rushing yards per game with an average of 334.7. On the flip side, they are dead last among the 80 NAIA teams with an average of 44.6 passing yards.

“They try to sit on the ball and give you five possessions all day,” Donley said.

Although Saint Francis has a 4-0 record against William Penn, including a 71-7 mopping in the Statesmen’s only visit to Fort Wayne in 2007, Donley says the 2012 version is pretty good. The difficulty in assessing how good is the schedule William Penn plays. The only two teams with winning records it has played are Waldorf (4-3), which it beat 48-14, and No. 15 Saint Francis, Ill. (5-3), which it beat 19-8. The five other teams have combined for four wins.

“They’re obviously so much more talented than everybody they’ve played, with the exception of Saint Francis, Ill.,” Donley said. “ … It’s difficult when you look at all the rest of the game film because they’re just so physically superb than everybody else that they’ve played, it’s hard to get a real feel for what they’ve got. You just have to prepare schematically.”

Which has been the focal point of practice throughout the week, even though the past still lingers.

“My impression of our players is that they’re (upset) and ready to get back at it again,” Donley said. “I think they believe that they’re the best team in the country, and we’re sitting here at 4-2. We didn’t find ourselves until after (Saint) Ambrose (a 15-14 loss), and now we felt like we played well enough to beat Marian, banged up.”

Added offensive guard Zach Greiner: “I think it was a bittersweet taste. On offense, there were a couple of series we could have executed a little better, but I think that was definitely our best game. I think we’re trying to find our identity to help us now. It’s going to help us down the road, being more battle tested. We’re definitely one of the top teams right now.”

stwarden@jg.net

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