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Small colleges: St. Xavier continues run of rugged foes vs. St. Francis

Updated: September 25, 2013 9:22PM

The football season is three games old, but it already has been eventful for St. Xavier.

“We jumped right into the fire, “ coach Mike Feminis said. “First the defending national champions, then a very good Division II team and then a team ranked in the top 25.”

In reverse order, the Cougars came away with a 42-10 romp against Robert Morris, which had been ranked No. 22 going into the game on Saturday. The ­previous game was a 51-20 loss to the University of Indianapolis, ranked 22nd in NCAA Division II. The Cougars opened with a 31-24 overtime victory over defending NAIA champion Marian.

After the early ups and downs, St. Xavier is No. 5 in the latest NAIA rankings, with a Saturday trip to play No. 22 St. Francis (2-1) in Joliet next in the trial by fire.

“At this stage of our program, our expectation is to compete for the national championship every year,” Feminis said. “We won it in 2011, and made the semifinals four other time since 2006. We’re a little younger than we have been lately, relying on a lot of freshmen and redshirt freshmen. They’ve been able to grow up very quickly. After our first couple of games, I told them, ‘You’re no longer freshmen.’ ”

One key among the redshirt freshmen is quarterback John Rhode, who made his first start against Robert Morris. Rhode completed 21 of 34 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions.

“We think he’s going to be a fantastic player,” Feminis said. “We know we’re going to have to live with some mistakes. The last time he took a snap was two years ago when he was leading Montini to the state championship against ­Joliet Catholic. Saturday, we thought he was terrific. He’s a dual threat, legs and arm.”

Despite a tough time against Indianapolis, Feminis expects the defense to stand out. The unit was named NAIA Defense of the Week by Beyond Sports Network after holding Robert Morris to 163 yards, with six sacks.

“It’s a more veteran unit,” he said. “We’re not real big, but we’re quick and athletic. To get where we want to go, the defense is going to have to carry us at times.”

Trinity rising

Trinity International (3-0) broke into the NAIA rankings at No. 24 holding off St. Francis 41-39 in Deerfield. Stephen Anderson threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns and Chris Elliott ran for 144 yards as the Trojans beat a ranked opponent for the first time since 2004. Next up for the Trojans is Robert Morris on Saturday in Arlington Heights.

Cardinals No. 4

In NCAA Division III, North Central (2-0) climbed two spots to No. 4 in the poll at after routing Wisconsin-Stout 41-14. The Cardinals play host to Wisconsin-Stevens Point on Saturday.

Wheaton (3-0) is No. 15 going into a bye week after whipping Luther 38-12.

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