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Saint Francis training center dedication

Head coach Kevin Donley talks at R. Bruce Dye Football Training Center dedication

Cougars cranking offensive tempo

Coaches want team to maintain intensity for the entire game

The notion formed in the film room, birthplace of so many football notions.

Hey, look at this. In 12 games last year, we scored on our first possession 10 times.

Wow. Wonder what would happen if we could make every possession like our first?

We’d score a lot of points. And leave teams with their tongues hanging out.

Which, months later, is exactly what the Saint Francis Cougars did.

After keeping it under wraps all spring and summer, they rolled out an up-tempo, no-huddle offense, and it worked. After No. 16 William Penn took a 13-10 lead on its first possession of the second half last week, the gassed Statesmen managed just 26 yards thereafter, and the Cougars ran off 21 straight points to win 31-13.

The win, plus losses by three teams in front of them, bumped the Cougars to No. 2 in the NAIA poll. And now they’ll put their shiny new offense to the test Saturday night at home against No. 7 Saint Ambrose in a battle of top-10 teams.

“Start strong and just keep it going,” says head coach Kevin Donley, whose team ran 74 plays last week. “That’s where that all came from.”

He was standing, speaking of shiny new things, on the suite level of the new R. Bruce Dye Football Training Center, a 6,010-square-foot complex that overlooks the south end zone of Bishop John M. D’Arcy Stadium and which the school dedicated Thursday. The complex, which cost $1.87 million, is named for principal donor Bruce Dye and contains a 3,900-square-foot training center and 2,100-square-foot visitors locker room on the lower level, plus six VIP areas seating 300 on the top level.

What they’ll see Saturday night is the second installment of a hurry-up offense that was the brainchild of co-offensive coordinators Pat Donley and Trevor Miller and which sprung from those 10 first-possession scores they noticed breaking down the 2012 season on video.

“It was pretty remarkable,” Pat Donley says. “And we looked at it and said we’ve got to keep our intensity, our attack mode mentality, going for longer periods of time.”

And so: Up-tempo.

“It really fits our personnel, and it fits our schematics really well,” Pat Donley says. “We have very limited communications with our play calls anyway, and it really kind of fit with a no-huddle, up-tempo because it doesn’t take a lot of communication to get the ball snapped quickly.

“And again, it’s more about us. It’s more about us being forced to be in attack mode for longer periods of time. You have to be focused and you have to play fast.”

Implementing that kind of offense required a different level of conditioning, and the players bought in. The offensive linemen and roughly 80 percent of the skill players stuck around this summer for that purpose, and the result, Pat Donley says, is a level of conditioning “as good as it’s ever been.”

“It’s made our kids work harder,” says Kevin Donley, whose staff also brainstormed in July with Mike Yurcich, the former Saint Francis assistant and current Oklahoma State offensive coordinator who runs the same sort of offense.

“We’re in much better shape.”

And having more fun, too.

“It’s a great offense to play,” center Zach Greiner says. “We always have the pedal to the metal basically, always on go mode trying to score and get more plays in the game.

“You could see the first game last week how it wore down our opponents.”

bensmith@jg.net

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