Saint Francis defense sparks chain reaction in NAIA quarterfinal win
University of Saint Francis cornerback Stan Jackson borrowed the “turnover chain” idea from the Miami Hurricanes, but the energy he generated was original. And effective.
Jackson brought out the chain, which his mother had bought for an “80s night” theme party, modified it with the Saint Francis logo and showed it to his teammates about five minutes before kickoff Saturday.
“He pulled that out right before the game, he was running around, he got the whole defense hyped,” safety Blake Schumacher said. “Watching the whole team, the offense get into it and the fans get into it, it was a fun atmosphere. It helped us a little bit too.”
No. 1 Saint Francis intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble en route to a 30-3 win over Northwestern (Iowa) in the NAIA quarterfinals Saturday at Bishop D’Arcy Stadium. Saint Francis (12-0) will host Morningside (13-0) in a semifinal game next Saturday for the right to make a return trip to the national championship game.
Jackson and his good friend, running back Justin Green, came up with the idea of borrowing the turnover-chain reward before the game. Jackson knew his mother, Letitia, had a chain that would work.
“Honestly, my mom got here kind of late and I was texting her, ‘Mom, I need that chain,’ and then I crafted it up in there,” Jackson said. “It was literally five minutes before the game when everybody saw it.”
The first official appearance during the game came shortly before halftime when Schumacher rose high to pick off a pass by Northwestern’s Tyson Kooima. He returned the interception to the Northwestern 26, and ran off the field to become the first to wear the chain.
“Schumacher got the first one and you could see it after that,” Jackson said. “Chain city!”
Saint Francis’ offense capitalized on the Schumacher interception, with quarterback Nick Ferrer hitting wide receiver Dan Ricksy for a 14-yard touchdown and a 14-3 lead with 28.6 seconds left in the half.
“That was definitely a big momentum change,” said Ricksy, who was named the offensive player of the game with four catches, 111 yards and two touchdowns.
Saint Francis’ defense – which set the tone for the day, led by player of the game Eric Dunten’s 10 tackles – came out the second half and stifled Northwestern once again. The Cougars’ offense then marched for a 27-yard Gavin Gardner field goal to go up 17-3.
“If you can score at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half, you’re not going to lose many games, statistically speaking,” Ferrer said. “That’s what we wanted to do.”
The next touchdown – a 30-yard pass from Ferrer to Ricksy for a 24-3 lead – came after Saint Francis cornerback Willy Cole intercepted a Kooima pass and took his turn with the chain.
Later, in the fourth quarter, Jackson finally donned the chain he created. He went up and knocked away a pass in the end zone, then hauled it in for an interception.
The party, which he started, was in full glory then.
“Stan, he’s a ball of energy,” Dunten said. “He gets everyone excited. Every practice, he’s ready to go. It just brings everybody up. We have to have people like that.”
Green, who rushed for 180 yards, scored Saint Francis’ first and last touchdowns. Senior defensive end Matt Muncy recovered a fumble for the final takeaway by the Saint Francis defense for the day.
“We’re definitely peaking right now,” Dunten said. “The defense was flying around, doing our assignments, playing our hearts out.”
Saint Francis is one win away from a return to the national title game in Daytona Beach, which would feel a little like Miami, as the chains fly.