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The Journal Gazette

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Saint Francis senior Sean Boswell makes the catch at the goal line during Saturday afternoon's game at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium.

Sunday, September 10, 2017 1:00 am

Saint Francis 68, St. Francis (Ill.) 23

Cougars offense hums in home opener

Ferrer throws for 301 yards, 5 TDs in first half; defense flusters Saints

GREG JONES | The Journal Gazette

Consider any questions surrounding the defending NAIA national champion Saint Francis football team answered after only two games into the season. 

Senior quarterback Nick Ferrer threw for 301 yards and five touchdowns – in the first half – as top-ranked Saint Francis cruised in its home opener 68-23 over St. Francis (Illinois) on Saturday at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium. 

Any doubts about replacing All-American receiver Seth Coate or filling in any gaps along the offensive line, including Rimington Trophy Award-winning center Brian Gegner, have been resolved for the Cougars (2-0). 

Against the Saints (0-2), Ferrer had plenty of time and plenty of targets.

“We were just spreading the ball around, and it was good to see,” Ferrer said. “All day long they really didn't have an answer for the pass, and the receivers were able to find openings in the zone. 

“They work hard up front (on the offensive line) every day. It is a (coaching) staff thing and a mentality thing, and you love to see it, especially as a quarterback.”

Ferrer, who was 22 of 26 in the first half and 0 for 3 in the second half before being taken out, threw three touchdown passes to Rocky James and one each to senior Sean Boswell and sophomore Duke Blackwell. 

“The connection is there,” James said. “Just like him and Seth, it is me and him. He coaches me up; ... after practice, it might be raining or hot, but we still get out here; he wants that connection.”

Ferrer moved up to No. 7 in the Mid-States Football Association's career passing list, with 8,895 yards, nearing Jeremy Hibbeln's all-time school passing records of 11,084 yards and 107 touchdowns (with 104).

“I knew he was going to be great,” Ferrer said of James. “I didn't have any worries about him. He is a great player and a great talent. I am glad he is here.”

The vaunted Cougars' defense lived up to their billing and held St. Francis (0-2) to 296 yards of total offense. The defense also fared well containing Saints quarterback Don Butkus, who threw for a school-record 520 yards two weeks ago.

Butkus, the great-nephew of Chicago Bears legendary linebacker Dick Butkus, had only 66 yards passing after leaving the game twice with a leg injury. 

“As a secondary, we had a big challenge, and we did a great job of handling it,” sophomore cornerback Ryan Johnson said. 

Saint Francis won its 19th straight home opener.

“We got them frustrated and took them out of their game a little bit,” Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley said of the Saints. 

It is the most points scored in a game since a 79-20 win over Missouri Valley in last year's NAIA playoffs opener and the most in the regular season since a 74-13 win over Lindenwood-Belleville in 2015.

Junior running back Justin Green added 120 rushing yards and two touchdowns. 

The Cougars' special teams also had their moments, including Johnson's blocked field goal attempt and subsequent 67-yard touchdown return. Saint Francis also blocked a punt and recovered a muffed kickoff return attempt.

“We always want to try to get turnovers, and special teams is a great time to do that,” Johnson said. “Special teams means a lot.”

gjones@jg.net