FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Ask any University of Saint Francis football player how they like the sound of it — Undefeated regular season — or conference champions or No. 1.
All the Cougars had the same response — a big smile, a sense of pride
and accomplishment — after a regular-season ending 40-20 win over Taylor University on a chilly, gray but fortunately dry Saturday at Bishop D’Arcy Stadium.
After recognizing 18 seniors before the game, the top-ranked Cougars got down to business with a junior helping to set a USF record. Just 15 second into the game Justin Green put the Cougars on the scoreboard first with a 96-yard game opening kickoff return. It was the first time in the 20-year history of the program that USF has had back-to-back game-opening kickoff returns for a touchdown. Last week freshman Matt Kominkiewicztook the opening kickoff back 89-yards for the touchdown.
Green didn’t stop there after his first career kickoff return TD. He scored three rushing touchdowns to raise the record bar to 22 for a single-season. He also became the first back to score four TDs in a game since Antoin Campbell did it against St. Ambrose on Sept. 13, 2013. He finished with 148 yard rushing, 1,282 for the season just 89 yards short of the season record of 1,371 yards set by Mike Ledo in 2003.
“We really enjoy blocking for Justin,” USF senior center Connor Holcomb confirmed. “We all take pride in getting any of our back positive yards as well as protecting Nick (Ferrer). When Justin is making those big runs, we feel like (the offensive linemen) helped by making some openings for him so he can do his job.”
How about helping USF win its 13th Mid-States Football Association Mideast League championship?
“We’re really happy to win it for Coach D,” Holcomb observed. “This make ‘Senior Day’ even more special to do it today. We haven’t forgotten that 6-4 season a few year ago, so we really appreciate the conference championship.”
Green’s 96-yard KO return ranks No. 3 on the USF longest KO return list, the second longest at Bishop D’Arcy Stadium/Kevin Donley Field.
USF @ Bishop D’Arcy Stadium
1. 94* — Daniel Carter, Jr. Trinity Int’l 1Q W 67-0 9/6/08
2. 87^ — Carter, Jr. Union (Ky.) 3Q W 58-3 11/22/08
3. 98 — Coleman, Jr. #1 St. Xavier 3Q L 42-31 10/1/11
4. 88 — Coleman, Jr. Central State 2Q W 59-20 11/12/11
5. 81 — Coleman, Sr. Concordia 3Q 76-14 9/22/12
6. 89* — Matt Kominkiewicz, Fr. L’wood-Belleville 1Q W 70-0 10/28/17
7. 96* — Justin Green, Jr. Taylor 1Q 6-0 W 40-20 11/4/17
Despite the great start, the Trojans didn’t play along with the festive afternoon early in the game. After Brandon Grasha missed the extra point, TU went 80 yards in eight plays taking a 7-6 lead at 11:47. Spencer Crisp rammed in for the TD from the USF 2-yard line and Austin Gunderson put TU ahead with the extra point.
USF answered the challenge scoring the next 27 points to take control.
Green charged 27 yards for his first rushing TD and a 12-7 lead at 3:40. Ferrer shook off TU tacklers to find Dan Ricksy for an 18-yard TD pass with just eight seconds left in the first quarter and Grasha kicked the PAT for a 19-7 lead. Green scored the only TD in the second quarter on a 10-yard run and a 26-7 lead at halftime. Green opened the second-half scoring with a 10-yard run at 11:03 for a 33-7 lead. Senior back Ryan Cinadr finished the scoring with a 13-yard TD with 12:50 to play in the fourth quarter for a 40-7 lead.
Ferrer threw for 279 yards on 13-for-22 passing with one interception and the TD connection with Ricksy. Ferrer has throw for 3,240 yard this season becoming the first USF QB to throw for more than 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. He raised his career passing yards total to 11,580 yards and his career TD passes total to 127.
Thanks to backup senior defensive lineman Ahmad
Rucker, USF has had at least one interception in every game this season. Rucker got one of the loudest cheers of the afternoon when he grabbed a Matt Box passed and plowed his way to a 20-yard return that led to the Cinadr TD. Defensive lineman James Jamicich forced and recovered a fumble and the Cougars defense registered 10 QB hurries, two apiece from Marcus Stepp and Mitch Thornbury.
Eric Dunten led USF tacklers with 13, six solo. Ryan Johnson added 10 tackles, a team leading seven solo and a pass breakup.
“Conference championships are not easy to come by, especially with the schedule we play,” USF Head Coach Kevin Donley asserted. “So it is quite an accomplishment.”
Donley had the team applaud itself for the achievement in the quick meeting on the field just before a misty rain started falling.
“We thought they would blitz more than they did, but I guess they were more concerned about Nick’s arm,” Green said.
Ferrer felt the No. 1 Cougars were in control most of the day.
“We pretty much controlled the line of scrimmage and pretty much the whole day,” Ferrer said. “We scored 40 points even though we had four turnovers, so I’d say it was a pretty good day.”
USF has Nov. 11 off and will learn who it plays on Sun., Nov. 12.