Photo by Jeff Vorva
St. Xavier’s team huddled for a final meeting Saturday on Bruce Deaton Field under the backdrop of the scoreboard signaling the end of its season in the semifinals of the NAIA national championship series.
Folks around here learned two things about Ashland, Oregon, courtesy of veteran Southern Oregon football coach Craig Howard.
“It’s renowned for being the home of the Shakespearean Festival,” he said. “In addition to the Shakespearean Festival, we also have a pretty good football team.’’
Those who watched his team play on Saturday afternoon in Chicago probably won’t protest that statement too much.
The Raiders and their record-setting quarterback, Austin Dodge, kept their high-powered offense rolling with a 62-37 victory over St. Xavier University Saturday in the NAIA national semifinals at Bruce R. Deaton Memorial Field.
It was the first time SXU hosted a semifinal game and when the Cougars owned a 17-10 lead after the first quarter, fans were dreaming of a return trip to the national title game. The Cougars won the national championship in 2011 when several of the Cougars’ seniors were freshmen.
But things quickly turned into a William Shakespeare-like dramatic tragedy when the Raiders scored 31-straight points and the Cougars could not catch up.
Dodge threw for 460 yards and five touchdowns. He completed passes to nine different teammates.
“He’s the best quarterback I’ve seen in 16 years,” SXU coach Mike Feminis said.
Dodge has thrown for more yards – 16,820 – than any other QB in the history of the NAIA.
Did SXU fans get a chance to watch a future NFL player on Saturday? Possibly.
Howard, who coached Tim Tebow in high school, said NFL scouts have stopped by Ashland to watch Dodge practice.
Dodge is not thinking about the NFL or his NAIA legacy. He is centered on Dec. 19 when his team plays Marian (Ind.) in the national title game at 2 p.m. in Daytona Beach, Fla.
“I’ll feel like I’ll cement my legacy if we win the national championship,” Dodge said. “And only if we win the national championship. I want to put a ring on every one of these guys’ fingers. I’m going to do my part to help lead this team. It’s going to be a fun experience. It’s something that we haven’t done before and we’re going to get down to Florida and take care of business.’’
Cougars quarterback John Rhode threw for 308 yards including a 75-yard strike to Evergreen Park resident and Marist High School graduate Ryan Carroll for a score.
St. Xavier finished the season 10-3. The Cougars opened the season beating Marian 65-38 but the Indiana school was able to get past that huge setback and make it to the national championship game.
“There’s a lot of hurt,” Feminis said after the loss. “These seniors had the unbelievable feeling of winning a national championship when they were freshmen and they were a step away as sophomores. Last year, we had the season we had [not making the playoffs] and that doesn’t happen to us.
“This year’s team grew and matured as the season went on. I don’t want to say we maxed out but I don’t know if too many people thought we would get this far.’’
A huge chunk of players from the South Suburbs make up the Cougars’ roster.
Those from the Reporter/Regional area are Carroll (from Evergreen Park/Marist High School), Joe DeMarco (Chicago Ridge/Richards), Mike Sheehy (Chicago/Brother Rice), John Glover (Oak Lawn/Oak Lawn High School), Denzel Watts (Evergreen Park/Evergreen Park High School), Mohamad Ashkar (Alsip/Shepard), Ronald Luce (Oak Lawn/Oak Lawn High School), Kevin Lonergan (Oak Lawn/Oak Lawn High School), Greg Hayward (Oak Lawn/Oak Lawn High School), John Frederickson (Evergreen Park/Evergreen Park High School) and Kevin Berrigan (Oak Lawn/St. Rita).