FORT WAYNE – A year down the road, Kevin Donley needs no prompting. The number is burned into his frontal lobe like some gruesome tattoo.
We’ve got a pretty good rivalry going, he says as Marian Week arrives for his No. 6 Saint Francis Cougars. They dropped 45 on us twice last year. I know that stuck in my craw for a while.
And so there’s one number to garnish the eighth resumption of Saint Francis-Marian, and there are others. If 45 is what sticks with Donley, so does 11, which is the number of conference titles, in 16 seasons, the Cougars would lock up with a win at Bishop John M. D’Arcy Stadium on Saturday.
And so does 4, which is the number of losses Marian (6-4, 4-1 MSFA Mideast League) has this season, and which is something of a mirage.
They’re a team that’s kind of like what we are, says Donley, whose Cougars haven’t beaten Marian, the defending NAIA champions, since 2010. You have your cycle of injuries, and you kind of have to fight through it. They’ve been through the injury cycle and they’re getting some players back, and we’ve gone through ours, and we’re getting some players back.
While that cycling was going on, Marian lost three straight.
But since their open week on Sept. 28, the Knights have gone 5-1, the only defeat a 20-6 loss to Saint Francis (Ill.), with whom the Cougars and Knights share the top spot in the MEL.
They come to Saint Francis with running back Tevin Lake, the No. 3 rusher in the conference with 1,128 yards, and a defense that ranks second in the conference in pass defense, fifth in run defense and third overall. Plus motivation of their own.
They’re sitting there with four losses playing for a conference championship, Donley says. With no postseason possibilities, this is it for them.
Not so for the Cougars (7-2, 4-1 MEL), who can lock up a first-round home playoff game with a win. Even a loss would likely get them into the playoffs.
I don’t recall too many times when a three-loss team would have got in, but there’s going to be a handful, Donley says. So it’s a different kind of year.
Not that different. It’s still Marian, and there is still a conference title on the line.
If it was anybody else but Saint X (Saint Xavier) or Marian, I wouldn’t say it wouldn’t be as big of a game, but since it is them it’s especially a huge game, wide receiver Aaron Knight says. So much at stake.
The good news for Saint Francis: They’re healing.
Josh Miller’s ankle remains iffy, but he’ll likely start at quarterback after going 14 of 19 for 147 yards and running for two scores in the first half of a 20-12 win over Taylor last week. Jalen Campbell, three weeks after moving over from defensive back, emerged as a go-to running back with a 17-carry, 97-yard day. And fellow freshmen Jason Nicodemus and Aaron Harris appear to be healed as well.
It’s just one of those nagging things, Donley says of Miller. Sure like to have him perform as long as he possibly can. I’m about ready to stick him in a bubble bath at halftime to keep him loose.
Note: Veterans, military personnel and their families will be admitted to the game free Saturday.