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The Journal Gazette

  • Doug McSchooler | For The Journal Gazette Saint Francis running back Justin Green scores a first-half touchdown Saturday against Marian. The Cougars rallied from a 14-0 deficit to remain undefeated and win the Franciscan Bowl in Indianapolis.

Sunday, October 01, 2017 1:00 am

Saint Francis 31 Marian 24

Cougars pass toughest test yet

No. 1 St. Francis rallies to beat No. 8 Marian

GREG JONES | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley knew the adversity was going to come sometime this season. The law of averages pretty much said the top-ranked and defending NAIA national champion Cougars were going to be fighting for their lives at some point, despite easily winning their first four games.

“We had to hit (adversity),” Donley said Saturday, after the Cougars rallied and then held off No. 8 Marian 31-24 at St. Vincent Field. “I thought this game would probably be it. They did some good things and caught us ... in the first half.

“The kids were resilient, and nobody was panicking at the half. We felt good about it, and we told them to get chipping away at it. It's a good rivalry. We don't like each other, and we like to beat each other.”

Saint Francis (5-0), which trailed 14-0 in the first quarter, was still down seven at halftime and outscored Marian 14-0 in the second half.

“We wanted to keep our composure,” said junior running back Justin Green, who ran for 138 yards and scored two touchdowns, including the game-winning 10-yard scoring run with 6:50 left. “We just didn't want the scoreboard affect us. We were hungry, and we really wanted it. It means a lot. We mark this game on our schedule, and this is a big game for us.”

The Cougars lead the all-time series 7-6 in the battle for the Franciscan Bowl.

“This is definitely the toughest team we have faced so far ... this was a very good test for our conditioning and our grit; we had to see how tough we really were,” said senior defensive tackle Eric Hemmelgarn, who admitted some starters haven't played a lot in fourth quarters this year. “It means a lot to have the Franciscan Trophy, but we know at the end of the year we want the (national championship) trophy.”

Marian (2-2) had beaten Saint Francis the previous two meetings, including handing the Cougars their lone loss last year. Saint Francis has won a school-record 14 straight games since that game.

Cougars quarterback Nick Ferrer completed 33 of 38 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns, bringing his career total to 117 scoring passes, three away from the No. 2 spot (120) in NAIA history. Rocky James had 12 catches for 163 yards and Dan Ricksy had 10 for 146 yards with a touchdown.

“The main thing we were focusing on in there (locker room) was to come out and play our football and keep playing like we know we can play,” Ricksy said of the second half. “That 14-0 (deficit) just gave us more fire to pick it right back up and get going and just fueled us to play our football.”

The Cougars held the Knights to 96 yards in the second half, got a huge first-half interception from Blake Schumacher and a key pass defense by Wilmer Cole in the end zone in the fourth quarter.

“We have been doing it pretty much all year (in the second half),” Hemmelgarn said. “Our defense has played very well all year in the second half. We made mistakes in the first half, and that happens, especially when you face a good team like Marian. I was really pleased with our team in the second half putting the brakes on and not let them get anything else in the second half.”

Saint Francis tied the game at 24 when Ferrer hit Sean Boswell on a 6-yard touchdown pass.

Note: Saint Francis co-defensive coordinator Joey Didier said freshman defensive back Qamari Hassan was making good physical progress after the Wayne graduate suffered a head and neck injury in a preseason practice, prompting surgery.

gjones@jg.net