College Football: St. Francis set for defending NAIA champ Marian (Ind.)
By Dennis Nelson For Sun-Times Media October 24, 2013 9:04PM
Jeff Cascella (44), of St. Francis, is among the nation's leaders in sacks and tackles for a loss. | Dennis Nelson/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 26, 2013 6:32AM
The Mid-States Football Association historically has done well in the NAIA playoffs. The last two champions — St. Xavier in 2011 and Marian (Ind.) in 2012 — are members of the 14-team league, which is celebrating its 20th season of college football.
And when it comes to selecting teams for the NAIA playoffs, the MFSA has been well represented. In each of the last two seasons, five member schools have been invited to compete in the 16-team playoffs.
“Historically, in the Mid-States, there are at least two teams from the East and the West who make the playoffs,” University of St. Francis coach Joe Curry said. “So, we are right there.”
St. Francis is ranked No. 24 in the nation. If it can remain among the top 25, its chances of reaching the NAIA playoffs for the 13th time in the past 15 years increase.
The Saints are 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the MFSA Mideast Division with four games to play. The first is Saturday against defending NAIA champion Marian (4-3, 2-0) in Indianapolis. Based on history and the numbers, the Saints have to win three of their final four games to have a shot at returning to the NAIA playoffs. St. Francis did not make the playoffs last year.
“The bottom line is if we beat Marian, we’re right in the thick of it in our league,” said Curry, who guided the Saints to a 6-5 mark during his first season as coach a year ago. “We are playing a good team needing a win to put us in good position in our league.”
Last season, six teams ended the season with one league loss. Five of the six made it to the NAIA playoffs. In 2010, five MFSA teams were invited to the playoffs. One of those had two league losses.
“In our league, one loss doesn’t mean you are out of the running to finish at the top of the standings and make it to the playoffs,” Curry said. “The last few years, the teams with one loss have been tied for the league championship. We have one loss in the league”
Heading into Saturday, eight MFSA teams have one loss or fewer, including St. Francis, Ind. (5-1, 2-0), Marian (4-3, 2-0), St. Francis (4-3, 2-1) and Taylor (3-3, 1-1) in the Mideast.
After Saturday’s game against Marian, the Saints are at Siena Heights (4-3, 1-2) Nov. 2 and Taylor two weeks after that in the season, conference and home finale. That will mark the Saints’ 100th MFSA game. The Saints host St. Ambrose on Nov. 9 in a nonleague game.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs and get into the tournament of 16,” Curry said. “If we can do that, anything can happen. But our focus (this) week is to beat Marian.”
Marian’s roster features two local products in Lemont graduate Bobby Purvin, a junior linebacker, and Bolingbrook resident Bryan Derence, a senior defensive end.