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Column: Saint Francis passing game flying high again

It was great to catch up with former University of Saint Francis record-setting receiver Seth Coate before the Marian game over the weekend. I can’t believe the No. 1 Cougars don’t even miss him.

I’m being a facetious. If Coate had eligibility left, he’d be on the field with a dozen touchdowns by now. Of course, the Cougars miss him. He was a great teammate as well as an incredible receiver.

But…

I’m stunned at how quarterback Nick Ferrer and the passing game hasn’t missed a beat after the graduation of Coate, Montay McDowell and Akeim Kelsaw. I thought the passing attack would be good in time with the young talent on the roster. It’s better than good. Through five games, it’s unstoppable.

Credit Ferrer, first of all.

His combination of talent, poise, intelligence and experience has allowed him to post off-the-charts numbers. Through five games, Ferrer is 132-of-174 passing (75.9 percent) for 1,817 yards, 20 touchdowns and one interception.

He’s doing this largely with players in lead roles for the first time: sophomores Rocky James and Dan Ricksy and senior Sean Boswell. They’ve combined for 1,440 yards and 14 touchdowns.

“They’re clutch guys,” Ferrer said. “They want the ball in those situations. Rocky wants the ball when it’s tight, Sean wants the ball when it’s tight, Dan wants to make a play when it’s tight. These guys want the ball.”

Those receivers, along with sophomore backups Duke Blackwell and Will Chrisman and senior tight end Zach Gegner, are a huge part of the reason defending NAIA champion Saint Francis is 5-0 heading into a noon home game against Concordia on Saturday.

“We have a lot of tools,” James said. “We don’t have to rely on one guy. We have guys everywhere to make plays and that makes us an elite team.”

The three primary receivers bring similar abilities to catch passes in traffic, but with different skills, too.

James is the leaper. He relishes and loves the jump ball, whether in the end zone as he did in scoring against Saint Xavier on Sept. 23, or near the sideline in a clutch situation late in the win over Marian on Saturday in Indianapolis. He has 39 receptions for 649 yards and seven touchdowns and leads the Mid-States Football Association in receptions per game (7.8) and yards per game (129.8).

Ricksy, who missed a game with an ankle injury, lines up on the outside opposite James and brings speed to burn. He’s also quick to change direction and deliver yards after catch. He has 28 receptions for 422 yards and five touchdowns and ranks fourth in the MSFA in receptions per game (5.6) and fifth in yards per game (84.4).

No player worked harder than Ricksy to earn a starting role in a fairly competitive receivers corps.

“I was real anxious to get going,” Ricksy said. “Right after last season, I got to work. I knew it was going to be a battle to get playing time and I wanted to make sure I could come out on top.”

Ricksy’s presence – and effectiveness – has pushed James to keep his performance rising.

“Me and Rocky have great chemistry form working together,” Ricksy said. “We’re real close. When he does something, it makes me feel good and I know it’s the same for him. We just want to get better and succeed.”

Boswell, the longest tenured receiver, resembles those smaller but dangerous New England Patriots-type inside receivers. He isn’t afraid of crossing the middle, and made a huge diving catch when Saint Francis needed it to clinch a 31-24 win over No. 8 Marian. Boswell has 28 receptions for 369 yards and two touchdowns. He’s tied with Ricksy with 5.6 receptions per game and ranks ninth with 73.8 yards per game.

The continually excellent running of junior Justin Green (119.2 yards per game, second in the MSFA, and nine touchdowns) and an improving offensive line also makes the passing game hum.

Saint Francis ranks first in the NAIA in passing, and sixth in total offense, and has played three ranked opponents in its first five games. Ferrer’s completion percentage is the best in the NAIA and he’s third in passing yards per game. He leads the MFSA in every significant passing category.

Saint Francis leads the MSFA in scoring offense (50.2 points per game) and will face the MSFA leader in total defense this week in Concordia (13.6 points allowed per game). So the schedule doesn’t get any easier.

But, consider this: James and Ricksy are barely getting started on their college careers. They’ll only get better, complemented by the consistently strong play of inside receiver in Boswell and a cast of hungry additional players.

“Rocky’s a mismatch for sure, but we have a lot of guys, and they’re clutch,” Ferrer said. “And they want the football in tight situations.”

When the season started, I didn’t think Saint Francis’ passing game could match that of last year’s team.

I’ve changed my mind. It could be even better.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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