FORT WAYNE – Thirty mph wind gusts. Blinding snow squalls. Wind chills that ranged from I Can’t Feel My Extremities to You Mean I Still Have Extremities?
The weather gods made this about the elements Saturday at Bishop John M. D’Arcy Stadium, as Saint Francis and Faulkner (Ala.) fought it out in a first-round NAIA playoff game.
And so here was Saint Francis nose tackle Matt Carden, on a field sugared with melting snow at the end of the Cougars’ 20-13 victory, being as elemental as possible.
It came down to the defense really didn’t want to stop playing, he said, after the Cougars stopped four shots from the 2-yard line with 1:39 to play to preserve the win. This group of guys loves each other, and we really just wanted to keep playing again next week.
And now they will, thanks to a goal-line stand that will one day wind up bronzed somewhere, and a gusty third-down throw by David Yoder that gave the Cougars (9-2) a fresh set of downs and enabled them to run out the clock on the Eagles (9-3), who rallied from a 20-7 halftime deficit to nearly steal it in the final seconds.
Saint Francis will find out its quarterfinal round opponent today.
Faulkner quarterback Josh Hollingsworth’s 38-yard touchdown pass to a diving Trump Harrison through a curtain of snow trimmed the deficit to 20-13 with 14:44 to play, and, after several more thwarted attempts, the Eagles got the football back on their own 19 with 7:26 left.
Eleven plays later, the Eagles had first-and-goal at the 10. Three snaps later, the Cougars interfered with A.J. Stevenson in the end zone, and Faulkner had first-and-goal at the 2.
David Amos got it to the 1 on first down. Hollingsworth looked as if he was going in on a keeper on second down, but he slipped and fell. Carden and Taylor Brown stuffed Amos at the line on third down, and, on fourth down, Jake Allen and Cale Tabler sniffed out the bootleg and buried Hollingsworth.
We felt like we were going to stop them and then they got the penalty to get the first down, Carden said. And then it just turned into us not wanting to be done playing.
It also fell on the offense’s shoulders to get a first down, a monumental task in the second half to that point. A blocked punt at the Faulkner 2 that turned into a Jason Nicodemus touchdown, a 30-yard Yoder-to-Akeim Kelsaw pass and two Emerson Ueber field goals produced 20 points in the first half, but in the second half the weather and Faulkner shut down Yoder and Co., limiting them to four first downs and 29 total yards.
And then, with the clock under a minute and the Cougars third-and-7, Yoder found Cam Smith for 11 yards and the first down. It was only his fifth completion of the half.
While the defense was making that goal-line stand, I said no matter what happened we were going to need to make a play, said Yoder, who came on for Josh Miller two plays into the game and finished 17 of 39 for 154 yards and a touchdown. So we went out there with that mentality and we got the job done.
Sounds good to head coach Kevin Donley.
It’s not a pleasant afternoon to be out here today, but our players toughed through the conditions and they went against an outstanding talented football group here to pull it out, he said. Defensively, they were as good as we’ve ever seen.
But we hung in there and found a way to win.