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  • Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
    Saint Francis’ Zach Gegner reaches out toward the goal line as he is being tackled by Taylor’s Cameron Gray during the Sept. 10 game at Bishop D’Arcy Stadium.
September 23, 2016 1:03 AM

Homecoming adds to pressures Cougars facing

Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette

Saint Francis vs. Lindenwood-Belleville

When: Noon Saturday

Where: Bishop D’Arcy Stadium

Radio: 106.3 FM

The Saint Francis football team always wants to deliver a victory for its fans, but Saturday those fans will include many former players and students. It’ll be homecoming, and who could be more discerning when it comes to Cougars football than those who have seen, and been a part of, so many victories throughout the years?

“Every game is important. Every time we go out, we read about expectations and here we are with cameras in my face and you want to know, ‘Why?’ So it’s important for us to be our best,” coach Kevin Donley said. “Whatever the score is, I have to be able to look all of you in the eye, and to look at our players in the eye, and say, ‘We gave it our best shot.’ That’s what we’re all about – doing the very best we can at all times.”

Heading into its game against Lindenwood-Belleville (Illinois), Saint Francis wants to maintain an undefeated record, improve on its No. 3 national NAIA ranking and ensure, coming off a bye week, that it doesn’t have a letdown against a winless team.

That pressure is embraced; it adds to the experience of homecoming.

“I love it,” said Donley, whose last game was the 37-6 victory over Taylor on Sept. 10. “I’ve gotten calls from players from Arkansas, California, Florida, South Carolina, guys coming back. Some of them have been gone only a few years and some have been gone for 16 or 17 years. So it’s really good. Some of them are going to be back for our Friday afternoon pregame practice and some of them will get to talk to the players at that time. It’s a pretty neat tradition and the expectations are always high.”

There can be distractions any week, senior safety Jerrell Holman said, even more so in the days leading up to homecoming, and that can test the mettle of any team.

“Time management helps you a lot to avoid the distractions,” said Holman, a Northrop graduate whose cousin Jamie Holman led the Cougars in tackles in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and will be among the alumni at Bishop D’Arcy Stadium.

“We take a lot of pride in this. You’ve got the alumni coming back and we want to put on a show for them. We’re also trying to stay undefeated on our own field, so that’s another thing we’re trying to do and there’s a lot of pride involved in that.”

The Cougars (3-0) have been led by quarterback Nick Ferrer, who has completed 61 of 98 passes for 962 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. Defensively, Eric Dunten has 11 solo tackles and an interception and Spencer Cowherd has 12 solo tackles and a sack.

Homecoming is a time-honored football tradition in high school and college, but a victory can be harder to pull off in college, said Holman, who has six solo tackles and an interception. Saint Francis has won 15 of its 18 homecoming games.

“I feel like the difference between college and high school is you’re playing against a lot of great athletes,” Holman said. “In high school, you might have one or two on each team. But this is college. You’ve got years of film on some guys and they’re coming out with their best game plan and we’re coming out with our best game plan. And of course, having your family and friends there, you can’t get too caught up in that.”

Lindenwood (0-3) is coached by Dale Carlson, a former coach at Trine. Donley has an 8-3 record against Carlson. Last year, the Cougars beat Lindenwood 74-13.

jcohn@jg.net