Saint Francis 41, Marian 24

Cougars celebrate 11th conference title.

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Local colleges

Saint Francis’ Josh Miller looks to pass during the first quarter of Saturday’s game against Marian. Miller left with an ankle injury.
Saint Francis 41, Marian 24

Cougars douse Knights to win conference title

Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Saint Francis’ Akeim Kelsaw tries to elude Marian’s Obed Jean in the second quarter of Saturday’s game at Bishop D’Arcy Stadium. The Cougars won to clinch their 11th conference championship.

– Of course they grooved the thing. After a second half like that, how could they not have?

And so here was Saint Francis football coach Kevin Donley and here were the Stealth Twins, Zach Greiner and Josh Miller, lugging an orange barrel of ice water. And here they were throwing down a perfect strike of frigid deliciousness on Donley’s mane of silver hair.

That’s how it works when you win an 11th conference title by beating Marian 41-24, which is what the Cougars did Saturday with a second half that was every bit as sublime as Greiner’s and Miller’s performance.

Down 17-7 after a first half in which Marian (6-5, 4-2 MSFA MEL) hogged the football for more than 20 minutes, Saint Francis simply buried the Knights in the second half, scoring on six of its last seven possessions and holding Marian to three plays or fewer on the Knights’ last four possessions.

“This is kind of a tradition with us,” said Donley, whose Cougars (8-2, 5-1 MSFA MEL) claimed the Mid-States Football Association Mideast League title outright after Saint Francis (Ill.) lost to Taylor. “Chips are down, backs are against the wall, what are you going to do? And they really stepped it up.”

It started with an ill-advised fake punt by Marian on fourth-and-3 at its own 43 on the Knights’ first possession of the second half. The Cougars buried former North Side star Taylor Howenstine for a 12-yard loss, and backup quarterback David Yoder took it from there.

Filling in for Miller, whose troublesome ankle tightened up again, Yoder first threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Knight, who made a leaping grab in the end zone. Then he followed with an 11-yard strike to Cam Smith, a 5-yarder to Micah Noble and a 20-yard dagger to Seth Coate with 2:12 left.

In one half, Yoder threw for 224 yards and four scores, Emerson Ueber added a couple field goals, and the Cougars outscored Marian 34-7. And they had their first win over the Knights since 2010.

“It feels good,” said linebacker Devon Rush, who had one of the Cougars’ picks. “In my four years here, Marian’s played us tough, and they beat us most of the years I’ve been here. So it’s nice to finally come out on top.”

Not that it looked as if that would happen for a while.

After Jason Nicodemus broke a 58-yard touchdown run on the second snap of the game, Marian replied with an eight-play, 61-yard drive to tie it, and the Knights owned the half thereafter.

Saint Francis ran just 20 offensive plays and never penetrated deeper than the Marian 42 after Nicodemus’ jaunt.

The second half was a different story.

“We had some guys step up at halftime and yell,” Yoder said. “It was kind of a question at halftime of who wants it more. We knew we had to get it done.”

“We came out in the second half and it was (like) the national championship,” said Knight, who caught five passes for 63 yards. “Some of the seniors got up and got some aggression out, and the coaches came in and said how crucial this is. And we came together as a team and got it done.”

The win not only locked up a title but virtually assured Saint Francis of a home playoff opener.

“Now we’ve got to focus on our second season in the playoffs,” Yoder said.