By Steve Millar
After two lopsided losses on the road, St. Xavier was angry coming into Saturday’s home opener against Missouri Baptist.
Sophomore linebacker Josh Hettiger was ready to take some of that angst out on the field.
“We knew they were going to run the ball a lot and we get excited to play a running team,” Hettiger said. “We know we’re going to get a lot of chances to get downhill and hit someone.”
Hettiger and his teammates did plenty of hitting as the Cougars turned in a dominant defensive effort in a 34-7 victory at Bruce R. Deaton Memorial Field in Mount Greenwood.
Hettiger, a Richards graduate, finished with 15 tackles for St. Xavier (1-2), while freshman Jaleel Holloway recorded 3 ½ sacks.
Offensively, quarterback Martinez, a St. Laurence graduate, finished 17-for-31 passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns. Vance McShane ran for 120 yards and a score on 14 carries.
“At times, we moved the ball really well,” St. Xavier coach Mike Feminis said. “Vance and Jamarri (Watson) ran it well, our receivers made some big plays, and Alex played better.
“I thought we played really well defensively all night.”
The Cougars got the win they desperately needed against the Spartans (0-3). Dating back to last season, St. Xavier had lost its previous three games by a combined score of 150-14. The 2017 season ended with a 52-7 loss to Morningside in NAIA Championship Series quarterfinals. This year opened with a 52-7 loss at Marian and a 46-0 defeat at Illinois State, an NCAA Division I FCS program.
“It wasn’t easy to keep our heads up,” Feminis said. “That first game against Marian really humbled us. We fully expected it to be a toe-to-toe matchup and we were shell-shocked.
“We’re not used to losing the first two, so this was a huge game for us. Missouri Baptist has struggled, but I told the guys we can’t worry about who we’re playing, we have to treat this like our Super Bowl.”
The Cougars went three-and-out on their first two possessions, but McShane’s 13-yard touchdown with 9:51 left in the first quarter put them ahead.
A 66-yard touchdown pass from Martinez to Elliot Pipkin, along with a pair of field goals by Shepard graduate Mike Iturbe, stretched the lead to 20-0 by halftime.
Pipkin had seven catches for 117 yards, while Harold Davis led the way receiving with 11 catches for 179 yards. Nick Czeszewski added seven grabs for 72 yards.
Davis and Czeszewski had second-half touchdown grabs, with Davis catching his from backup quarterback Justin Hunniford.
“It’s always good to get that first win, especially at home,” Davis said. “We had to come out and protect our house. We pulled it together and did much better than we did the first two weeks.
“We still have things to work on, but we’re getting there.”
Hettiger said the Cougars can reach their true potential if they eliminate mental mistakes.
“We worked our butts off all offseason and we’re doing the same all week now,” Hettiger said. “Once we get those little things right, the sky’s the limit for this group.”