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St. Francis of Joliet eyes MSFA Mideast title

St. Francis football coach Joe Curry

St. Francis football coach Joe Curry

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Updated: December 16, 2013 6:16AM

Ranked No. 17 in NAIA with a conference co-championship in sight, St. Francis of Joliet has one simple goal:

‘‘Keep going 1-0 every week,’’ coach Joe Curry said. ‘‘That’s our message.’’

The Fighting Saints (7-3, 4-1) are in a three-way tie atop the MSFA Mideast with No. 6 St. Francis of Indiana (7-2, 4-1) and Marian (6-4, 4-1). They can clinch a share of the top spot when they close the regular season at home Saturday against Taylor (4-5, 2-3).

St. Francis needs to win not only to earn a share of the conference title, but to shore up a claim on one of the 16 bids to the NAIA playoffs. The Saints’ hopes got a boost last week when they held off then-No. 11
St. Ambrose (6-3, 4-1 MSFA Midwest) in a crossover game. St. Ambrose now is tied with the Saints for 17th.

St. Ambrose entered the game averaging 44.9 points, but St. Francis’ defense came up big.

‘‘We’ve played some great defense in some close games the last couple of weeks,’’ Curry said. ‘‘Those guys have done a great job, highlighted by [senior defensive lineman] Jeff Cascella. He was a preseason All-American, and he’s having a great year for us. So are two of our linebackers in [sophomore] Mike Passo and [senior] Josh Mander.’’

Senior quarterback E.J. White (242-for-356, 3,021 yards, 29 touchdowns) is a three-time All-MSFA selection and one of the top 10 in NAIA history with 9,730 passing yards. His favorite target, junior Troy Torrence (62 catches, 1,049 yards, 11 touchdowns), was named MSFA Mideast offensive player of the week after catching eight passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns against St. Ambrose. Torrence is the first player in school history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards, and he’s tied for the single-season school record for touchdowns.

‘‘We try to focus every week on going 1-0 because that’s all we can control,’’ Curry said. ‘‘If we do the job on Saturday, we’ll let the pollsters and everybody else do the voting.’’

Conference races

Going into the final week of the regular season, here’s how the top local teams stand in their leagues:

Division III No. 4 North Central (9-0, 6-0), a 35-16 winner against No. 21 Wheaton (7-2, 4-2) in the annual battle for the Little Brass Bell, has a one-game lead on No. 14 Illinois Wesleyan (8-1, 5-1). The Cardinals can wrap up the title at home Saturday against Augustana (5-4, 3-3).

NACC: Benedictine (7-2, 4-1), which has won five consecutive games, needs to beat visiting Lakeland
(6-3, 4-1) and hope Wisconsin Lutheran can knock off first-place Concordia of Wisconsin (7-2, 5-0).

University Athletic Association: Chicago (6-3, 1-1) needs to knock off host Washington of Missouri (7-2, 2-0) to tie for the championship.

Midwest: Third-place Lake Forest (7-2, 6-2) closes at home against first-place St. Norbert (8-1, 8-0).

MSFA Midwest: NAIA No. 21 St. Xavier (6-4, 3-2) is third in the conference and closes at Olivet Nazarene (3-7, 1-4). The Cougars can’t catch No. 2 Grand View, which finished the regular season 10-0, 6-0.

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