St. Xavier football thrives on defense, too
BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI For Sun-Times Media November 7, 2012 10:22PM
Updated: December 9, 2012 7:46PM
St. Xavier is known as an offensive juggernaut, averaging 37 points a game this season. But sometimes you just have to do it with defense, and the Cougars are well up to the task.
“Our defense unfortunately kind of slides under the radar every year because of the points we score on offense [and] the type of offense we play,” said coach Mike Feminis, whose Cougars (8-1, 4-1) claimed a share of the MSFA Mideast by putting the clamps on formerly top-ranked Marian (8-1, 4-1) in a 23-6 victory on Saturday. “But we have a tremendous defense, and we always have.
“Zach Dolph, our inside linebacker, he’s having an all-American type of year. He’s just been all over the field from Day 1. On Saturday he had a great game. Mike Bushnell, our middle linebacker, had a fantastic game. It was across the board. I thought our defensive line dominated Marian’s offensive line, and I think we have a tremendous secondary. They’re very athletic and they play a physical brand too.”
Dolph and Bushnell had 13 tackles apiece. On offense, receiver Shane Zackery was named conference offensive player of the week after four catches for 101 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown for a 23-0 lead.
With the victory, St. Xavier’s defending national champions rose one spot to No. 4 in the NAIA poll, while Marian dropped to No. 5. The Cougars finish the regular season with a nonconference game at Robert Morris (8-2).
There’s much at stake. The top eight teams in the NAIA rankings get home games in the first round of the playoffs, and the top four also get home field in the second round.
“What I told the guys at our team meeting on Monday, if we play like this throughout the playoff run, we’re going to be ordering another set of rings,” Feminis said. “They were that good against a very good football team.”
The annual battle for the Little Brass Bell turned the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin race into a three-team scramble as visiting Wheaton knocked off seasonlong leader North Central 35-21. That created a three-way logjam at the top among NCAA Division III No. 14 North Central (7-2, 5-1), No. 15 Wheaton (7-2, 5-1) and No. 20 Elmhurst (8-1, 5-1), who beat Carthage 41-24.
Wheaton quarterback Jordan Roberts (32-for-46, 380 yards, two touchdowns, and 46 yards and two TDs rushing) was named CCIW offensive player of the week, while his teammate, linebacker Pat Dansdill (14 tackles, 10 solo, 1 sack, 72-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown) earned defensive honors.
None of the leaders play each other in their regular-season closers on Saturday. Elmhurst plays host to Illinois Wesleyan (6-3, 3-3), who has lost three in a row after being ranked through most of the season. North Central plays at Augustana (5-4, 4-2), and Wheaton is home against North Park (1-8, 0-6).
Concordia (9-0, 6-0) just keeps rolling in the Northern Athletics Conference, this time with a 37-3 rout of Lakeland. With that, the Cougars clinched the Northern Athletics Conference automatic berth in the Division III playoffs. They close the regular season on Saturday at Marantha Baptist.