FORT WAYNE, Ind. — If you noticed a particularly strong gust of wind around 3 p.m. on the northwest side of the Summit City on Saturday afternoon, it may have come from Bishop D’Arcy Stadium where University of Saint Francis fans unleashed a collective sigh of relief after the Cougars’ 35-18 win over 20th-ranked Concordia University.
USF Head Coach Kevin Donley warned that the Cardinals would be another
difficult test and CU proved him accurate taking an 8-0 lead and an 18-15 lead with 4:31 to play in the third quarter on a 25-yard Josh Kukulies field goal into those winds out of the south gusting over 20 miles-per-hour.
Outside linebacker Spencer Cowherd and cornerback Ryan Johnson combined to provide the decisive play that broke the determined Cardinals’ challenge after USF place-kicker Gavin Gardner had booted his third field goal of the game for a 21-18 USF lead with 6:56 to play in the fourth quarter. CU wide receiver Donte DeSalle caught a pass from quarterback Seth Suida at the CU 46 only to have Cowherd jar the ball loose with a bone-jarring hit with his shoulder. Johnson snatched up the ball and with an escort of USF defenders to the end zone for the TD and a 28-18 lead with 3:36 to play.
“We’ve got a tradition of making big plays on both sides of the ball and today, the defense made the decisive big play,” Donley observed after his 308th career win and USF’s record 15th consecutive in over the last two seasons.
“Spencer did the heavy lifting when he tackled (DeSalle) and knocked the ball loose,” Johnson said. “All I had to do was pick it up and run to the end zone. Our defense did a great job of blocking.”
“Any moment we’ve got guys on this side of the ball capable of making big plays,” Cowherd said with a smile. “I was able to make a play on it. I was fortunate to make a play. I was on a track to the receiver. I was zoned in and I saw it come loose. The next thing I saw was a convoy of blue defensive players that made me believe that one of our guys had it. Then I looked at our amazing fans and saw everybody goin’ crazy, so it was a special feeling, a special moment.”
USF pooch kicked the kickoff and Malachi Manion continued the special feelings for the Cougars. He leaped high in the air to haul in the kick that got spun around by the wind. Justin Green broke away from a tackler on fourth and one from the CU 26 to score his third touchdown of the game and finish the scoring.
Green finished with 154 yards rushing on 34 carries and three TDs. CU sophomore Joe Conner, the rushing leader in the Mid-States Football Association averaging 139.2 ypg, won the
rushing yards ‘war’ finishing with 189 yards on 24 carries and one touchdown. Green was happy with his day and the way it turned out for the Cougars.
“We can just never quit and no matter how much we get down, we can never quit,” Green said after his 10th 100-plus yard game against an NAIA Top 25 opponent. “My offensive lineman are the best in the country. They block hard for me, I run hard for them, and it was just a great team effort. Getting the W is what matters most.”
Ferrer finished 19-for-35 passing for 202 yards, his 31-game streak of at least two TD passes coming to an end. After a 5-for-15 passing in the first quarter, the senior completed 14-of-20 pass attempts in the final three quarters including nine for first downs.
“It’s a win,” Ferrer said. “All three phases did what they had to do to get the win. We got hit in the mouth in the beginning.”
The Cowherd-Johnson play was the most decisive USF defensive play of the game, but there were many other big play for the Cougars. Marcus Stepp set up Gardner’s first field goal with a fumble recovery. Johnson forced a fumble on a punt in the first quarter that Emmanuel Evansrecovered for USF, though Ferrer threw three incomplete passes from the CU 12 to end USF’s second possession of the game with nothing to show for it. Blake Schumacher had a 57-yard interception for USF to end the first half. And USF linebacker Eric Dunten had three sacks for eight yards, 3.5 TFLs for nine yards and 12 solo tackles, 17 total, and a forced fumble.
USF’s defense limited Suida to 10-for-24 passing with one interception, 132 yards and one TD for 23 yards to Desalle, CU’s first TD of the game.
After running a gauntlet of four consecutive NAIA Top 25 opponents concluding with the previously unbeaten Cardinals, the Cougars tangle with Siena Heights next Saturday in USF’s third night game this season.