Coach: Kevin Donley
Record: 9-3 (4-1 MSFA, MEL)
What went wrong: Marian is just too good. Twice this season, including the 45-34 loss to the Knights in the second round of the NAIA playoffs, Saint Francis lost to Marian. That’s three straight times, counting last year’s regular-season loss. And that’s three straight times in which Marian has scored 40 points or more (40, 45, 45). While the defense held the opposition to less than 20 points in nine games, it wasn’t constructed to stop Marian, which has become the Cougars’ chief rival. Offensively, Saint Francis had a quarterback-by-patchwork situation: Whichever quarterback was the healthiest played. Starter Josh Miller suffered a high ankle sprain against Saint Xavier and never recovered completely, leaving David Yoder to be the on-again, off-again starter. Injuries were prevalent on defense, as well. Leg injuries to Kevin Bush, Anthony Moore and Rex Drabenstot made what seemed to be a deep defensive end group thin. Much of the linebacking crew was dinged up, especially in the 45-38 regular-season loss at Marian.
What went right: Because of the injury to Miller, Yoder stepped in and proved to be a threat for the No. 1 job next season. In essence, the Cougars could have two No. 1 quarterbacks. In the two games against Marian, Yoder threw for 600 yards and six touchdowns. Former Harding speedster Austin Coleman broke the NAIA record for career kickoff returns for touchdowns with eight – his last coming against Marian on a 100-yard effort. And there was the emergence of redshirt freshman Akeim Kelsaw as a receiving threat. Kelsaw finished with 444 yards and three touchdowns. The offensive line that began the season with one starter developed into a solid unit. Kollin Carman finished as the No. 1 punter in the NAIA with an average of more than 44 yards.
Outlook: The smart money puts the starting quarterback job next season on Miller, whose option ability gives the Cougars an added dimension. Problem is, Miller’s style leaves him susceptible to injury, and the Cougars will be right back where they started. Of the starting lineup against Marian on Saturday, three offensive players graduate in Coleman, center Brice Darling and receiver Aaron Bettcher. But defensively, the losses will be felt. Five seniors, including defensive front players Anthony Moore, Lance Carey and Matt Smith, all graduate. The return of Justin Juarez, Devon Rush and Jamael Green at linebacker will offset the loss of Brody Kalbaugh. Sophomore Kory Stamps, who had two interceptions Saturday, has emerged as a ball hawk in the secondary that will lose Allen Richardson. Taylor Brown, the team’s leading tackler, returns at safety.
The Journal Gazette