Saint Francis vs. Siena Heights
When: Saturday at noon
Where: Bishop John D'Arcy Stadium
Records: No. 20 Siena Heights (5-0); No. 13 Saint Francis (4-2)
TV: link to live streaming available at www.saintfranciscougars.com/schedule/15/5
Radio: Redeemer Radio 106.3
Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley described last month's loss to rival Marian, the team's first defeat in nearly two calendar years, as a much-needed wake-up call.
But since Concordia beat Saint Francis 7-3 last Saturday and put the Cougars on their first losing streak since 2014, Donley has upgraded the situation to a “gut-check.”
“There's been a real sense of urgency,” Donley said of this week's practices. “It hasn't had to get extremely tough over the last three years. Now you find out character and just where you are, and demanding accountability for your job.”
The Cougars, who fell from No. 5 to No. 13 in the NAIA coaches' poll after the loss at Concordia, had not scored so few points in a game since being shut out by Georgetown College in a 2002 second-round playoff game. Sophomore quarterback Matt Crable was sacked 10 times for a loss of 62 yards, and Donley said that protecting the quarterback will be key in this week's home game against No. 20 Siena Heights (5-0).
“Play your rules, follow your assignment and what you're supposed to do,” Donley said of his offensive line. “We're young, we have three sophomore starters for the first time on the offensive line. We've just got to get it done better.”
Junior offensive lineman Nick Shoemaker said he thinks consecutive losses have motivated his teammates to practice better.
“Protecting the quarterback has been an issue, so we've definitely taken strides in practicing that, making sure we get our quarterback on his feet so he can deliver the ball like we know he can,” Shoemaker said.
The Cougar defense actually played quite well in the Concordia loss, limiting the Cardinals to 174 yards of total offense. Joe Conner, one of the best running backs in the MSFA Mideast League, accounted for 95 of those yards, and nearly a third of his output came from one 31-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Thus far, the undefeated Saints defense has been just as formidable.
“They've only given up one rushing touchdown thus far,” Donley said. “They have great athletes, big and strong defensively. Offensively, again, big, strong offensive line. They try to mash up front and control the football with the run game.”
So far, that offensive strategy has worked for the Saints. D'aries Davis has run for at least 100 yards in every game this season, and in his best performance of the year his teammate Jared Jordan added on another 125 yards.
The Cougars offense, on the other hand, has struggled to make up for the loss of running back Justin Green, who was out again with an ankle injury Saturday after returning briefly in the loss to Marian. Linebacker Piercen Harnish also sat out Saturday's game with an injury.
“Looks like Harnish is going to be back,” Donley said.
“Green is still a game-time situation. You have a running back with an ankle sprain, probably got about 5 percent body fat, it takes time to heal. But you know, he's a spark we haven't had for the majority of the season. It would be huge to be able to get him back. P.J. (Dean) has done a great job, but you need two guys back there.”