FORT WAYNE – It was a season for taking the good with the bad for the Saint Francis Cougars last year.
On the one hand, they went 9-3, upset then-No. 1 St. Xavier 25-13 and snagged a piece of the conference title with St. Xavier and Marian.
On the other, the week after helping Marian rise to No. 1 by knocking off St. Xavier, they lost to Marian 45-38. Then their season ended against Marian in the playoffs, 45-34.
Here’s the breakdown on what to expect this year:
5 key issues
Who replaces Austin Coleman? The Cougars’ game-changing receiver/kick returner has graduated, which means someone has to step as playmaker. Likely candidates are Akeim Kelsaw, who caught 46 balls for 444 yards and three touchdowns last year. Cody Appenzeller, Steve Espinoza and true freshman JeRon Terry may get a look as kick returners as well.
Who replaces Brody Kalbaugh? Kalbaugh, who led the Cougars in tackles with 105 from his inside linebacker spot, has moved on, and his is the biggest hole to fill in what should be a solid defensive unit. Kyle Mathewson, Steve Kiermaier, Ethan Chappell, Mike Brevard and Koree Terrell are all in the mix as Kalbaugh’s replacement.
Will two be better than one again? Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley, as he’s been known to do, went against conventional wisdom and employed two quarterbacks last year. It worked. Josh Miller and David Yoder made honorable mention all-conference. Will one or the other emerge this year as a bonafide No. 1, or will the Cougars be reluctant to mess with a winning (albeit unconventional) chemistry?
Shaking up the defense. Speaking of unconventional, the Cougars will have two defensive coordinators this year. Joey Didier and Eric Wagoner will split the duties, with occasional counsel from Donley, who promises an aggressive defense that flies to the football, spearheaded by NAIA All-American strong safety Taylor Brown and defensive backs Kory Stamps and Erick Humphrey.
Can someone move this roadblock? As it has been for the last few years, the season’s ultimate success likely will come down to a neighborhood issue: How to get past downstate rival Marian? The Cougars lost twice to the eventual NAIA champs last year, and, after winning the first four meetings, have lost three straight times to Marian since 2010.
4 top games
Sept. 14, William Penn: The preseason No. 6 Cougars open the season on the road against the 15th-ranked Statesmen, one of six preseason NAIA Top 25 teams on the schedule. They knocked off then-No. 5 William Penn 28-19 on the road last year.
Sept. 21, Saint Ambrose: Saint Ambrose, ranked 10th in the preseason, upset the Cougars by a point last year. Saint Francis will not be eager for a repeat.
Oct. 12, Saint Xavier: Another rematch – this time a night game at Bishop John M. D’Arcy Stadium – between two of the Mid-States Mideast Conference heavyweights. A must-win on the road to the conference title.
Nov. 16, Marian: The nemesis returns in the regular season finale. Depending on what’s gone before, the conference title could hang in the balance.
3 key returning players
Taylor Brown, SS, Sr.: The All-American will be the anchor of the defense after making 104 tackles including a team-high 49 solos last year.
Cam Edwards, OT, Sr.: A preseason Sporting News All-American, Edwards anchors an offensive line that returns seven of 10 players from the 2012 two-deep including starters Kegan Morris, Zach Greiner and Jesse Boley. If it all starts up front, up front starts with Edwards.
David Yoder, QB, Sr., and Josh Miller, QB, Sr.: You can’t mention one head of the Cougars’ two-headed monster at quarterback without mentioning the other. Both were virtually indistinguishable last year; Yoder threw for 1,478 yards and had an efficiency rating of 125.7, and Miller ran for 338 yards and four touchdowns and had an efficiency rating of 122.5.
2 new faces to watch
JaRon Terry, RB, Fr.: The true freshman out of Muncie Central will get a look at returning kicks as the Cougars look for someone to fill the shoes of Austin Coleman.
Drake DeMuyt, DT, Fr.: The freshman from East Noble is expected to get a look at nose tackle.
1 indispensable player
Antoin Campbell, RB, Jr.: If the Cougars’ offense is going to go this season, Campbell will be the triggerman. His 1,245 yards rushing not only ranked 10th in the NAIA, it set a Saint Francis record for most rushing yards in a season and made Campbell the first 1,000-yard rusher at the school since 2008. Campbell also ranked 16th in the NAIA in rushing yards per game (103.8), 28th in all-purpose yards (1,307), 35th in scoring (68 points), 44th in all-purpose yards per game (108.9), and 47th in scoring per game (5.7 ppg).