Entering Saturday’s contest, head coach Mike Feminis’ group ranked in the top five in total offense in the Mid-States Football Association (MSFA). Through four games, the Cougars were averaging 37 points-per-game to accompany its 416 yards of total offense per-game. Against Taylor, Saint Xavier’s offense was held in check. As a result, the club looked to its defense throughout the 60-minute affair in an effort to bring home a victory.
The Cougars never trailed in the game, but their lead never eclipsed 10 points. Overall, Taylor managed to keep it close with conservative play calls as well as a balanced ground and passing attack.
On the first drive of the afternoon, it looked like Saint Xavier would continue its trend of commanding games against unranked opponents. Quarterback Justin Hunniford was named the starter for the third time this season and led a methodical 11-play, 57-yard drive down to the Trojans’ one-yard-line. After failing to punch it in on three tries from the one, Taylor’s defense made the game’s first stand and forced Saint Xavier to settle for three points. The Trojans responded on the following possession with a 16-play, 61-yard drive that ate up 7:41 worth of game clock.
The Cougar defense stood pat at the goal line and created a turnover on downs after Taylor’s attempt to convert on fourth-and-goal failed. Following a clean first quarter that saw the game clock tick all the way down to under four minutes through two possessions, Saint Xavier quickly realized they were in for a dog fight.
While the overall story of the 24-20 affair revolved around defensive play, the Cougar offense was mighty impressive throughout the first half. Beginning his team’s second drive on his own five-yard-line, Hunniford used 13 plays to put six points on the scoreboard, as running back Mike Ivlow capped the impressive scoring effort with a one-yard touchdown carry.
Leading 10-0, the Cougars were looking to tack on before the half, but sophomore wide out Nick Czeszewski’s fumble gave Taylor the football with favorable field position. The Trojans managed to cut the deficit to three after quarterback Everett Pollard found Spencer Crisp for a 13-yard touchdown.
Building off their score, Taylor’s defense stopped Saint Xavier and got the ball back with 1:50 remaining in the second quarter. Backed up in their own territory, the Cougars regained momentum after Pollard’s pass was picked off by sophomore cornerback Trevon Anderson. The interception would be the first of three by Saint Xavier on the afternoon. Hunniford and the Cougars capitalized on the turnover with a four-play drive that ended in Ivlow’s second touchdown run of the contest. Saint Xavier blocked any hope for the Trojans to score before the half, as Pollard was intercepted for the second time in two possessions. This time, senior Robbie Brindley made sure to keep the Cougar advantage at 17-7.
In the second half, Feminis’ group nabbed points on just one out of seven total offensive series. On first and goal at the 10-yard-line early in the third quarter, senior Mark Strbjak grabbed an end-around handoff and scooted into the end zone for Saint Xavier’s final score of the day. That touchdown came shortly after Taylor capitalized on a Harold Davis fumble. With another short field, the Trojans managed their second 27-yard scoring drive of the day. Leading 24-14, Feminis made a concerted effort to run the football and manage the clock in an attempt to control the flow of the game. The Trojans had trouble maintaining long drives against Saint Xavier’s defense, so the Cougars played the field position battle.
Ivlow and sophomore Jamarri Watson were catalysts in the Saint Xavier backfield. On 19 total carries, the duo combined for 96 yards and rushed for just over five yards per-carry. Overall, the Cougars ran the ball a season-high 40 times.
With conservative play calling on offense on top of a stellar defensive effort, the Cougars allowed only a fourth quarter touchdown the remainder of the game. The MSFA Defensive Player of the Week, freshman Kevin Block managed his second interception in two weeks after he picked off Pollard prior to the end of the third quarter.
The Cougars created four total turnovers and turned them into 14 points in route to their four-point homecoming victory. Hunniford completed 21-of-34 passes for 206 yards and finished without committing a turnover. The win improves Saint Xavier’s record to 4-1 on the season as they finished MSFA crossover play with their triumph over Taylor. The Cougars look forward to conference opponent Trinity International University at home on October 14 following their bye week.
Prior to the homecoming contest, Feminis expressed his thoughts on his team during an episode of the Coach’s Show, which can be heard every Wednesday at 1:00 PM on WXAV 88.3 FM and wxav.com.
“I think they’re a very close-knit group,” Feminis said. “I love the way they compete against each other in practice. These guys care. I think they know they can be really good and if we fix our mistakes, there’s no reason we can’t run the table and make a deep run in the playoffs.”