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The Journal Gazette

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Saint Francis' Rocky James runs for a first down Saturday against Concordia at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium.

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Cougars quarterback Nick Ferrer overpowers Concordia’s Tarek Dalou to get a first down during Saturday’s game.

Sunday, October 08, 2017 1:00 am

Saint Francis 35, Concordia 18

Cougars save best for last

Outscore Concordia 20-0 in final quarter to cap comeback

GREG JONES | The Journal Gazette

Despite facing adversity, ailments and a deficit for the second straight week, top-ranked and defending NAIA national champion Saint Francis found a way to score 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to pull away from No. 20 Concordia 35-18 on Saturday at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium.

“It wasn't pretty, and we scratched and clawed,” Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley said. “We had some guys out and had some guys dinged up. You have to win it in the fourth in those close games. Good win for us, and it was probably what we needed right now.”

The Cougars (6-0, 2-0 Mideast League) trailed 18-15 after three quarters but tied it on the first snap of the fourth on a 26-yard field goal by Gavin Gardner.

With just under seven minutes to go, Gardner put the Cougars up 21-18 on a 28-yard field goal – his third of the game. With 3:36 left, Ryan Johnson returned a fumble 46 yards for a touchdown and Justin Green capped the surge with his third rushing touchdown, a 22-yard run, with 2:20 remaining. Green ran for 154 yards.

Last week, Saint Francis trailed rival Marian 14-0 in the first quarter before rallying for a 31-24 win. 

“We knew we were in a dogfight,” Johnson said. “This says we have a lot of fight in us; we don't give up easily. If someone wants to beat us, they have to play all four quarters.”

Senior quarterback Nick Ferrer failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time since November 2014, his freshman year. He had thrown at least two touchdown passes in 31 straight games. Ferrer left in the third quarter for one play with what he described after the game as “got the wind knocked out of me.”

Ferrer was working with a banged-up receiving corps that saw Rocky James leave the game in the first quarter. James never returned and was on crutches after the game. James said it was a hyperextended knee. Ferrer, who has thrown for a school-record 117 career touchdown passes, No. 3 in NAIA history, completed 19 of 35 passes for 202 yards.

“We didn't play as well as we (have), and you still see the final result,” Ferrer said. “Rocky went down, but we have to get better offensively. We have to have guys step up.”

It was scoreless after the first quarter, the first time all season the Cougars have not scored in the opening quarter. Twice in the first quarter, the Cougars failed to score in the red zone. They had three dropped passes in one series, two in the end zone.

“We have to fix those mistakes offensively,” Ferrer said. “The defense stepped up and bailed us out. Special teams came up with plays. ... That's why we are ranked No. 1 – all three phases. 

“Luckily, when we have mistakes like that in the passing game, and we have drops like that, we are able to bounce back and get a win against a very, very good football team.”

Johnson's fumble return for a touchdown came after a jarring hit by Spencer Cowherd that forced the ball loose from a receiver.

“I guess it was a big hit,” Cowherd said. “I get up and I see (Johnson) running for the touchdown, and it was time to party. It happened so fast, and you aren't able to think about it very long, but I am just happy everybody was doing their job and allowed me to make a play.”

gjones@jg.net