I thought this was going to be their year. Covering the Saint Francis football team all year, I believed the Cougars were going to break through and finally win their first national championship. I was wrong.
I was wrong, and it wasn’t because Saint Francis didn’t do the best it could in the NAIA Football Championship Series semifinals against the University of Sioux Falls. The Cougars just ran smack into a defense that is as tough as there is in small college football.
Sioux Falls had the No. 1 defense in the NAIA while Saint Francis had the No. 1 offense. I figured surely Saint Francis would put points up on this defense that shut out 7 of it’s 12 previous opponents. Who wouldn’t? They average 48 points a game.
If not for a trick play in the fourth quarter, Saint Francis would have been shutout victim No. 8, which would have set an NAIA record for shut outs in a season.
I say trick play, but it was a halfback pass that worked to perfection as Saint Francis quarterback Jeff Wedding handed off to wide receiver Mickey Cassidy, who then tossed a 26-yard strike to receiver Jared Clodfelter with 10:24 left in the game. It looked like the Cougars would get something going, but Sioux Falls tightened the clamp.
Saint Francis tried the same play again but with Clodfelter throwing. Sioux Falls sniffed it out and sacked Clodfelter.
So another season ends with a loss. I tried to ask Donley about whether he though the travel was a factor or whether Sioux Falls’ play calls and decision to use the wind (sustained 20 mph north to south winds) to their advantage got in his players’ heads. Donley told me after the game there was no reason to get philosophical about it.
He said Sioux Falls was bigger and tougher, and his team just got whipped – plain and simple.