Saint Francis really likes keeping its fans on their toes. The Cougars' last two wins have been decided in the closing seconds of the game.
“I don't have anymore gray hair to get,” Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley joked.
Last week it was a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown for the win, and this week, the No. 7-ranked Cougars denied Indiana Wesleyan a 2-point conversion attempt with 39 seconds left to win 31-30 at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium on Saturday.
“That was a good football team we just played, so coming in and winning in the fashion that we did shows a lot about us and our character and the championship culture that we have here,” quarterback Heath Simmons said.
Simmons, a redshirt freshman earning his first collegiate start with the injured Matt Crable sidelined, led the Cougars (5-1, 2-1 Mid-States Football Association) back from a 21-14 halftime deficit.
“No butterflies, it's what I'm used to,” Simmons said. “I came here to play football, and it was a fun experience. I just kind of settled down out there. Obviously, there's some anxiousness with my first start, but I was just happy to get out there and sling the ball a little bit.”
Donley was impressed with Simmons, who passed for 172 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
“I wanted Heath to feel the fire and be in it when it matters,” Donley said. “He made some good decisions, made some bad throws, made some good throws, but all in all I think he had a good first college start against a good football team.”
After a lackluster first half, the Cougars scored on their first three drives of the second half and didn't allow Indiana Wesleyan to get to midfield.
“We knew we could play better,” running back Martell Williams said. “We weren't really getting to our game in the beginning, so we knew we had some work to do and came out and executed.”
On a third and one from the Cougars' own 34-yard line, Williams broke free for a 66-yard touchdown run to start the Cougars comeback.
“We knew we could run the ball on them, it was just all about calling the right plays and getting people in the right positions,” Williams said. “I couldn't have really run and had the good runs without the O-line. We did a good job all together as running backs, O-line and wingbacks.”
Williams finished with 175 yards and two touchdowns. He got the start in place of the injured P.J. Dean, who's been out since Week 2, but did return in a limited role Saturday and notched a 4-yard rushing touchdown.
“He took advantage of an opportunity on an injury,” Donley said of Williams. “He's stepped up and really did a good job. P.J., working back in for the first time since early September, I think he's going to be at full speed real soon.”
After another Williams rushing touchdown and a Gavin Gardner 35-yard field goal, Indiana Wesleyan (4-2, 2-1 MSFA), in just its second year of sponsoring a football program, mounted its own comeback.
Ben VonGunten hit a 33-yard field goal and Wildcats quarterback Zack Blair, a Ball State transfer, found Brayden Smith in the end zone with 39 seconds left in the game. Blair threw for 165 yards and three touchdowns.
Indiana Wesleyan went for the 2-point conversion and the win, but Chrys Colley deflected the pass.
“Could have flipped the coin one way or another,” Donley said. “You have to credit them, they took a shot and tried to get the W.”
Dan Ricksy led Saint Francis in receiving with 86 yards on four catches. Simmons found him for a 31-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first quarter.