GREENVILLE, Ill. – The St. Scholastica football team jumped out to a 27-0 lead on Saturday, but the game came down to the last play of the game and the CSS defense came up big when it mattered most as the Saints prevailed 30-26 at Francis Field.
Entering today, the Panthers (0-2, 0-1 UMAC) had not lost an Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) game in their first two years as an associate member of the conference. Greenville was also picked to win the league unanimously in the preseason coaches' poll.
Even though it was just the second game of the year and the conference opener, the Saints had this one circled on their calendar. CSS had its bye week last weekend and it was a good thing they did as quarterback Alex Thiry had an emergency appendectomy a week and a half ago and it was uncertain whether he would play.
Thiry suited up, but did not get the start. The first two offensive possessions did not go anywhere and Thiry entered the game and proceeded to throw for 292 yards and three touchdowns (all in the first half) on 18-of-26 passing. The Saints got their first score of the game with five minutes left in the first quarter on a Thiry to Jake Jensen 69-yard pass-and-catch on a third and long. CSS's extra point attempt was blocked and the score was 6-0 CSS after one quarter.
After Greenville's second fumble of the game, Thiry threw his second touchdown on the afternoon with about five minutes left in the second quarter when he connected with his cousin Nick Thiry from four yards out. Mike Theismann added the extra point to make it 13-0.
Greenville would attempt a 36-yard field goal on the next possession, but a bad snap would lead to a blocked kick. The Saints capitalized as Thiry hit Keegan O'Neill for a 9-yard reception with 32 seconds left to give St. Scholastica a 20-0 halftime lead.
The Saints kept things rolling in the second half as Jake Jensen scored on an 8-yard run on the opening possession to extend the margin to 27-0 with 13 minutes left in the third quarter.
At that point, it was all Greenville as it scored touchdowns on its next four possessions. The Panthers scored their first points of the day five minutes into the second half on a Brendan Chambers 37-yard run. The extra point was blocked and the score was 27-6.
Justin Honeycutt scored on a 14-yard run later in the third quarter to make it a 27-13 game. With a minute left in the quarter the Saints got a 22-yard field goal from Theismann to make it 30-13.
In the fourth quarter, Chambers ran it into the end zone again from seven yards out to cut the lead to 30-20. With 5:44 remaining in the game, Greenville was faced with a fourth down on the CSS 2-yard line and Chambers scrambled left into the end zone. The extra point would be blocked by Christopher Doran to keep it a one touchdown game at 30-26.
On the first play of the ensuing possession, the Saints had their first turnover of the season on a fumble and Greenville took over inside the CSS 40-yard line with all of the momentum on its side.
The Panthers drove into the Saints red zone, but the CSS defense dug in and held Greenville on downs as Keaton Rush busted up a reverse in the backfield for a 12-yard loss. However, the Panthers would get the ball back after forcing the Saints to a three-and-out.
Greenville moved the ball down to the CSS 24-yard line with four seconds left. It came down to one play and one pass attempt to the end zone, but the pass attempt would never happen as Doran grasped Chambers and took him to the ground for the sack as the Saints rushed the field in jubilation for the 30-26 victory.
CSS outgained the Panthers 451-423 in the game, including 282-85 in the first half. The Saints were 8-for-16 on third down conversions and once again won the turnover battle 2-1.
Jensen rushed for 122 yards on 27 carries and one touchdown. Thiry targeted O'Neill and Nick Thiry seven times each. O'Neill had 137 yards receiving and a TD and Thiry had 67 yards and one TD.
Sean Graskey led the defense with 12 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss. Zack Dubanoski and Rush each added 11 tackles and Doran had eight tackles and two sacks.
The Saints (2-0, 1-0 UMAC) will have their home opener next weekend when they face the University of Minnesota-Morris at Malosky Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota-Duluth. The kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. and can be seen live on GameCentral at csssaints.com.