College football: Fireworks loom as St. Francis visits St. Xavier
By Dick Goss firstname.lastname@example.org September 6, 2012 9:36PM
St. Francis’ E.J. White looks to pass in the opener against Ferris State. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 9, 2012 2:32PM
St. Xavier is the defending NAIA national champion.
The No. 1 Cougars are a big deal whenever they play.
St. Francis is working toward that level. When the No. 7 Saints travel to Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community to take on St. Xavier at 6 p.m. Saturday in a Mid-States Football Association crossover, they will attempt to take another step toward the level occupied by their rival.
“They’re kind of like we were five or six years ago when people started noticing us,” said St. Xavier coach Mike Feminis, an NAIA All-American linebacker and former assistant coach at St. Francis. “We got to the point then where we could compete with the best teams in the country. That’s where they are.”
St. Xavier (1-0) is coming off a 41-12 spanking of Olivet Nazarene, while St. Francis (1-1) dropped a 35-24 decision on Aug. 30 to NCAA Division II Ferris State.
“Don’t read too much into that loss,” Feminis said. “They have a very good football team. They lost to a very solid Division II team and were playing short-handed. They are very talented offensively.”
So are the Cougars, who beat St. Francis in a 34-30 thriller last year.
“We averaged about 50 points a game the last three years,” Feminis said. “We return 17 starters, nine of 11 on offense. So our guys have been through the wars and played in a lot of big games. They made the (NAIA) semifinals and then won the national championship the last couple years.”
Veteran quarterback Jimmy Coy completed 35-of-53 passes for 426 yards and five touchdowns against Olivet. No. 1 receiver Shane Zackery caught 14 balls for 237 yards.
Along similar lines, USF junior E.J. White hit 28-of-51 passes for 373 yards against Ferris State, two yards shy of the school record.
“This game will be a treat for fans,” Feminis said. “With Jimmy Coy and E.J., you have maybe the two best quarterbacks at our level going at it.
“Both teams are really skilled offensively, and if there are lots of points it will not be a knock against either defense. I told our guys a million times they can’t worry about stats. Because of the style we play on offense, we know they will be on the field a more than most defenses. As long as we have more points when the clock says zero, that’s all that matters.”
If St. Francis is to pull off the upset, coach Joe Curry said a couple of things must happen.
“Offensively, we have to continue doing what we have been doing,” he said. “We just haven’t finished drives with points. That’s been limiting our offense.
“On defense, we have to limit big plays, fly to the ball and tackle well. Pursuit football prevents big plays from happening.
“Of course, we’ve been preaching all this week about sloppy play. If we limit our penalties, we’ll be in every game we play. If we limit penalties and big plays Saturday night, maybe we can go up there and steal one.”
Against Ferris State, St. Francis played without linebackers Adam and Drew Tondini, their top two returning tacklers who were serving one-game suspensions. They are back, and Curry said everyone is healthy and ready for St. Xavier.
“This is going to be an obvious challenge,” Curry said. “St. Xavier is always a challenge for us. It’s a game we look at over the summer trying to prepare for it. The kids and the coaches get excited for it.
“Not only do you have high school friends playing against each other, we’ve even had brother against brother in this game, kids from the same household on opposite sides. Playing St. Xavier has jump-started our guys. I wish we could get this from our kids every week — we’d go undefeated.”
“This is always an interesting game,” Feminis said. “Obviously, the relationships we have with so many people at St. Francis are special. Joe is a former player of mine and is a good friend.
“I’m a big fan of theirs. I wish they would win all the rest of their games, go 10-1 every year.”