DeBenedetti, Dolph star for Cougars in victory
Despite the sound of it, DeBenedetti and Dolph is not a legal firm that advertises during daytime-TV court shows.
However, the St. Xavier University duo certainly laid down the law to Trinity International University Saturday afternoon at Bruce R. Deaton Field. Junior receiver Nick DeBenedetti did so by latching onto a career-best 14 passes, which went for 183 yards and two touchdowns.
While DeBenedetti took care of the offensive side, Zach Dolph served as the Cougars’ defensive ringleader. Two weeks after establishing an SXU single-game record for total tackles, the senior linebacker was at it again, this time with 11 stops and two interceptions, one of which he returned 32 yards for a score.
Dolph’s six-pointer stretched the Cougars’ edge out to 14-6 in the first quarter. SXU then tallied twice more before intermission to create a lead that would only be marginally threatened over the last 30 minutes.
By day’s end, the Cougars owned a 37-20 Mid-States Football Association Midwest League triumph that assured them of a plus-.500 ledger for the 14th consecutive year. While NAIA 23rd-ranked SXU (6-4, 3-2) will miss the national tournament for the first time in five seasons, veteran coach Mike Feminis was impressed with his team’s overall performance against the Trojans.
“It was a very tough week [of practice] because the guys, understandably so, were down [about no playoff possibility],” he said. “But we talked about giving everything we had to make sure our seniors went out how we wanted them to. I’m very happy our seniors went out the way they did in their final home game.
“It seemed like forever to be in that situation, where we’ve had a big lead [to protect]. We really haven’t had that luxury very often.”
There was one other incentive for the Cougars on this occasion: Since Feminis’ arrival in 1999, SXU has compiled a sparkling 39-6 record versus Chicago-area foes Trinity, Olivet Nazarene, University of St. Francis and Robert Morris. And the Cougars made sure the Trojans didn’t improve on that mark by answering an early Trinity TD with four of their own.
In addition to Dolph’s runback, SXU scored in the first half on Joe Gill’s touchdown tosses to DeBenedetti (8 yards) and Dennis Vilimek (9 yards), as well as Nick Pesek’s 2-yard dash. DeBenedetti’s five receptions for 51 yards highlighted the 13-play, 99-yard march that concluded with Pesek’s run.
“Debo had a huge day,” Feminis said. “He’s our one true veteran [receiver] and he obviously knows his routes like the back of his hand. We ask him to do an awful lot, and I believe he’s leading the Mid-States in all-purpose yardage.
“He had a monster day. When everything is said and done, he’s going to rank among our all-time best receivers by the end of his career.”
Trinity, which had collected its first-half touchdown on a deflected pass, tallied twice in the third period, but could never bring its deficit below double digits. Chris Elliott’s 8-yard TD run had the Trojans within 30-20, but DeBenedetti’s 11-yard touchdown catch extended the Cougars’ lead out to its final 17-point margin.
Spencer Nolen’s 27-yard field goal provided the hosts with their other third-quarter points.
Seven SXU defenders were in on at least six total tackles, but no one loomed larger than Dolph. Besides his pickoffs, five solo stops and six assists, the Joliet Catholic Academy product forced a fumble, broke up another pass and had one-half tackle for loss.
“Zach Dolph really went out with a bang,” Feminis said. “He’s had another great year.”
Also making their presences felt on defense were Jacob Ghinazzi (four solos, six assists, one tackle for loss, one pass breakup, forced fumble), Mike Sheehy (one solo, six assists, one tackle for loss, one-half sack), Marcus Maas (four solos, two assists, 2½ tackles for loss, 1½ sacks, one quarterback hurry, forced fumble) and Matt Johnson (four solos, two assists).
Johnson is one of several freshmen who have played expanded roles for the Cougars this fall. On offense, that callow group has included three linemen: Kevin Lonergan, Luke Rowell and Sean Jones.
While Feminis anticipated starting one newcomer among his front five, early injuries to two veterans prompted a revamping of the lineup. Against Trinity, SXU’s O-line opened the door to 426 total yards.
“They’ve grown by leaps and bounds, and gotten better and better every week,” Feminis said of his youthful blockers. “The experience that these guys have gotten under fire, and against a good schedule, can do nothing but help them [in the future].”
The same holds true for the Cougars’ other young players who are seeing extended action for the first time over the season’s final two weeks.
“After [this] week, there’s nothing more we can do for the seniors,” Feminis said. “With the younger guys, we told them, ‘You’ve got two opportunities to make an impression on me and our [other] coaches.’
“There’s a lot of positives to look at going into next season. If we go 7-4 with the youth and all the injuries we’ve had to deal with, we’ve had a pretty good season.”
SXU will conclude its 2013 campaign Saturday in Bourbonnais, where it will meet Olivet.
Trinity Intl. 6 0 14 0 - 20
St. Xavier 14 13 10 0 - 37
First downs 26 21
Yds. rushing 203 97
Yds. passing 217 329
Total yds. 420 426
Att./comp. 35-22 44-26
Fumbles/lost 3-2 1-0
Had intercepted 2 1
Penalties/yds. 6-41 4-62
Punts/avg. 3-41.0 4-30.0
TIU — Cory Windle, 32-yd. pass from Stephen Anderson (kick failed)
SXU — Nick DeBenedetti, 8-yd. pass from Joe Gill (Spencer Nolen kick)
SXU — Zach Dolph, 32-yd. interception return (Nolen kick)
SXU — Dennis Vilimek, 9-yd. pass from Gill )Nolen kick)
SXU — Nick Pesek, 2-yd. run (conversion failed)
TIU — Dillon Turk, 8-yd. pass from Anderson (Aaron Ordway kick)
SXU — Nolen, 27-yd. field goal
TIU — Chris Elliott, 8-yd. run (Ordway kick)
SXU — De Benedetti, 11-yd. pass from Gill (Nolen kick)
St. Xavier Rushing: Pesek 13-63, Simms 3-22, Gill 1-7, Vilimek 3-3, Ladd 2-1, Ferguson 1-1. Passing: Gill 44-26-329. Receiving: DeBenedetti 14-183, Jones 4-63, Carroll 4-62, Vilimek 1-9, Pesek 1-7, Feeney 1-6, Simms 1-(-1).