Marciano’s exploits help Cougars ward off Fighting Saints
He wears No. 2, but Dave Marciano likely became Public Enemy No. 1 to the University of St. Francis following his exploits on St. Xavier University’s behalf Saturday night in Joliet.
While Marciano is a starting linebacker for the Cougars, his defensive presence was only part of the reason the Fighting Saints failed to knock off their longtime Mid-States Football Association rival. Even more vital among the senior’s contributions were a school-record-setting 81-yard punt return and the runback of a blocked extra point in the fourth quarter.
By returning the ball to the USF end zone in the latter instance, Marciano registered a safety for his team, which stretched SXU’s lead out to 24-19. The NAIA fifth-ranked Cougars added two touchdowns after that to exit Memorial Stadium in possession of a 37-25 victory over the No. 22 Saints.
“He’s our outside linebacker, and he’s got three touchdowns and two points on a safety this season — that’s pretty good production,” SXU coach Mike Feminis said with a chuckle. “I was very happy to come out of there with a win, and those were some big plays.
“Dave is just a terrific athlete — he can probably play any position on the field — and he’s a tremendous leader for us. He talks the talk and walks the walk, and our guys really respect him.”
Marciano wasn’t the Cougars’ only scoring weapon. Also coming through in a big way was kicker Spencer Nolen, who booted five field goals to match an SXU single-game standard. Nolen connected on attempts from 43, 32, 39, 46 and 30 yards.
“Thank God for Spencer Nolen,” Feminis said. “I personally hate having to kick field goals [because] we’re getting threes instead of sevens, but sometimes you have to be smart about things.
“It’s great to have that much confidence in your kicker, and he delivered for us. He saved our butts a few times.”
Except for Marciano’s punt return, Nolen was responsible for supplying all of the Cougars’ points through the first three periods. SXU’s struggle to score offensive TDs was a bit surprising, seeing as how it racked up nearly 500 total yards.
Once again, redshirt freshman quarterback John Rhode performed well, this time throwing for 280 yards and rushing for 65, which made him the Cougars’ top ground gainer. His 3-yard run upped SXU’s edge to 30-19 on the series that followed Marciano’s safety.
“I’m really happy with John Rhode’s development,” Feminis said. “We’re probably more balanced [at that position] than we have been in several years because he’s a legitimate rushing threat back there.
“Our young guys are coming of age. They’re not where we want them to be yet, but it’s really exciting to watch them grow.”
Exciting also described the contest itself as the final stanza unfolded. While USF never did catch up to the Cougars (3-1), it maintained a steady pressure on them as E.J. White triggered a potent Saints attack.
White, who entered the encounter as the NAIA leader in per-game passing yards, accumulated 421 here by completing 34-of-52 throws. He collaborated twice with Troy Torrence for aerial strikes, one of which was a 73-yard hookup that drew the hosts within 22-19.
Feminis wasn’t at all shocked that USF was able to keep heat on his club.
“For them, it’s kind of their Super Bowl, so we didn’t expect it to [come easily],” Feminis said. “We know we’re always going to get their best shot, and they played us tough. I was a little bit worried [at times], but as long as we kept a score or more difference [between us], I felt OK.”
Rhode’s touchdown restored some of that breathing room, then Nick Pesek ballooned SXU’s advantage to 37-19 with his 22-yard dash. Pesek’s six-pointer offset an ensuing one by White and prevented the Saints from generating any late-game momentum.
Although USF was able to do a fair amount of damage through the air, its offense was strictly one-dimensional as the Cougars held the Saints to 20 rushing yards. Keying SXU’s work on the prevention side were Tyler Hoeg (four solo stops, five assists), Alex Walters (four solos, four assists), Jacob Ghinazzi (three solos, five assists, forced fumble, one pass breakup, one quarterback hurry), Zach Dolph (two solos, six assists), Marciano (five solos, two assists, one tackle for loss), Dan Fitzgerald (five solos, one assist) and Greg Hayward (three stops, three assists, three tackles for loss).
In addition to Rhode, freshman Stephen Simms played a major role for the Cougars on offense. He tied Nick DeBenedetti for the team lead in receptions with seven, which resulted in 119 yards’ worth of pickups, and collected 41 more yards on seven carries.
“He’s just a little jitterbug back there,” Feminis said of Simms. “He’s doing a nice job for us.”
With two of the nation’s top-five teams suffering losses last weekend, Feminis expected SXU to vault into the No. 3 position in the next NAIA poll. Sitting right behind it would probably be Grand View, which visits Bruce R. Deaton Field on Saturday for the Cougars’ homecoming and their MSFA Midwest League opener.
Grand View defeated St. Francis, Ind., 23-6 in its most recent outing.
“Every team we’ve played so far has been ranked,” Feminis said. “For as young as we are, to be sitting at 3-1 is good.”
St. Xavier 13 0 6 18 - 37
USF 0 6 0 19 - 25
First downs 23 22
Yds. rushing 171 20
Yds. passing 325 421
Total yds. 496 441
Att./comp. 38-26 52-34
Fumbles/lost 2-1 2-1
Had intercepted 0 0
Penalties/yds. 4-25 5-35
Punts/avg. 3-47.3 8-34.2
SXU — Spencer Nolen, 43-yd. field goal
SXU — Dave Marciano, 81-yd. punt return (Nolen kick)
SXU — Nolen, 32-yd. field goal
USF — Jordan Patsch, 32-yd. field goal
USF — Patsch, 42-yd. field goal
SXU — Nolen, 39-yd. field goal
SXU — Nolen, 46-yd. field goal
USF — Troy Torrence, 19-yd. pass from E.J. White (Patsch kick)
SXU — Nolen, 30-yd. field goal
USF — Torrence, 73-yd. pass from White (kick blocked)
SXU — Safety (Marciano returns blocked extra point to USF end zone)
SXU — John Rhode, 3-yd. run (kick blocked)
SXU — Nick Pesek, 22-yd. run (Nolen kick)
USF — White, 6-yd. run (pass failed)
St. Xavier Rushing: Rhode 15-65, Pesek 15-53, Simms 7-41, Carroll 2-11, Hunter 2-4, Feeney 1-2, Ghinazzi 1-1, Team 3-(-6). Passing: Rhode 37-25-280, DeBenedetti 1-1-45. Receiving: Simms 7-119, DeBenedetti 7-95, Carroll 4-59, Pesek 4-25, Vilimek 3-19, Jones 1-8.