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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, September 09, 2018 1:00 am

Saint Francis 49 St. Francis (Ill.) 19

Cougars continue to cruise

VICTORIA JACOBSEN | The Journal Gazette

Make that 2-0. 

Saint Francis saw its lead cut to as few as eight points in the third quarter, but Wilmer Cole turned the tide by returning an interception for a touchdown and the Cougars ran away with a 49-19 win over St. Francis (Ill.) in Joliet to earn their second win of the season Saturday. 

“We had some adversity to overcome; they're a good football team,” Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley said. “We had 534 yards of total offense, were 31 of 43 for 396 yards passing, and we 10 of 15 on third down conversions, so it's a great game. And defensively, we slammed the door on them pretty good.”

Justin Green scored the first touchdown of the game with a 2-yard carry late in the first quarter, a run that capped a 98-yard, 10-minute drive. The Cougars ate up the clock in the first quarter, bookending it by holding the ball for 10 minutes, 12 seconds in the final quarter. 

“We had 30 more plays on offense, 82 to their 52, so that's a big factor,” Donley said. “First quarter, we started to wear them out. By the fourth quarter, they were pretty well shot.”

The Cougars, the 2-time defending NAIA champions, sped up on their second drive, as quarterback Matt Crable capped a seven-play series with a touchdown pass to Rocky James. A few minutes later, Dan Ricksy slipped behind the last St. Francis defender and caught a pass from Crable, running for a 56-yard score. 

But Crable also saw more pressure than he did from Robert Morris in the opener. The Fighting Saints' Malik Thurman stripped Crable of the ball and carried it into the end zone himself to narrow the deficit to 21-6 going into halftime. The Cougars opened the second half with a three-and-out, and Brandon Ruffin matched the St. Francis (Ill.) program record for touchdowns with a short run early in the third, narrowing the score to 21-13.

“They were bringing a lot more pressure: Last week's team kind of sat in base defense,” Donley said of St. Francis' approach to defending Crable. “So it's good for him to have to deal with that.”

But when the Saints (0-2) seemed to have the most momentum, Cole intercepted a pass attempt by the Aaron Ellis and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown to give the Cougars some breathing room. Eli Wallace added on a 26-yard run for a score, and the Cougars' lead increased to 42-13 after Crable hit James with a touchdown pass for the second time, this time for 45 yards.

Clay Senerius entered the game at quarterback late in the game, and got a touchdown of his own with a pass to Jahni Cooper. 

The Saints claimed the last score of the night as Brandon Ruffin again found the end zone, this time taking the school record for touchdowns outright.

The Cougars return to action when they play host to St. Ambrose at noon Saturday.

vjacobsen@jg.net