Ferguson TDs key Cougars’ upset of Indy
When asked if beating the University of Indianapolis on Saturday was special to him, St. Xavier University senior running back Khary Ferguson responded with a hearty, “Yes, sir!”
Obviously, scoring a win over the No. 15-ranked team in NCAA Division II was memorable for everyone on the Cougars’ roster. Elevating it even more in Ferguson’s eyes, was his status as an Indianapolis native.
The Greyhounds weren’t interested in recruiting Ferguson even before he injured his knee and required surgery early in his senior high school season. When the matchup at Bruce R. Deaton Field was over, however, they likely wished they had.
SXU’s offense wasn’t a juggernaut, but Ferguson gave it exactly what it needed: productivity to complement the Cougars’ strong defensive play. He racked up 63 rushing yards on nine carries and reached the Indianapolis end zone twice, including on a fancy 29-yard sprint in the opening quarter.
Behind Ferguson’s heroics, two Abdul Mahdi field goals and that aforementioned prevention unit, SXU had enough in its arsenal to knock off the Greyhounds 19-14 and avenge a lopsided 2013 loss.
Before the contest Cougars coach Mike Feminis had warned his players that “nobody better be surprised three hours from now after we’ve won the game,” and Ferguson said Feminis’ confidence in his players went a long way.
“If he believes in us, you’ve got to believe in him — we can’t leave him hanging out there,” Ferguson said with a chuckle. “[Our performance] was just buying into everything the coaches were telling us to do.”
SXU had played the Greyhounds on even terms for one half a year ago before seeing things unravel over the last 30 minutes. So Feminis’ contention that the Cougars weren’t in too deep against a Division II foe wasn’t simply based on blind optimism.
“I don’t want to minimize what we did, but to me this was not a David-versus-Goliath game,” Feminis said. “From 2009 through 2012 I would have put us up against any Division II team. [But] for some guys last year this was the second [college] game they started.
“Experience is a big key, and we’ve [also] gotten bigger, stronger and faster.”
For sure no one was swift enough to rein in Ferguson on his initial scoring dash.
“His first touchdown was a great individual effort,” Feminis said. “I was so happy for Khary. This was probably the best game he’s played for us.”
Brother Rice alumnus Andrew Walker responded for Indianapolis in the second period, but the visitors’ lead was short-lived as Mahdi’s 21-yard field goal put SXU (2-0) back in front at the conclusion of a 12-play, 72-yard possession.
Then before intermission arrived, Doug Ruggles caused a fumble, Danny Lombardo recovered it and the Cougars were back in business at the Indianapolis 41. Mahdi delivered three more points soon after with a 25-yard kick.
“You can always tell how a game’s going to go after the first hit or first play,” said Lombardo, who also had an interception. “We got the big plays when we needed them and nobody was getting down on each other [at any point].
“Last year was embarrassing the way they beat us. Blowout games are never fun to play in, on either end.
“The whole thing was what were we going to do about it? Coach Fem kept us all positive, and at halftime he told us, ‘This is when we need to knock them out.’”
Ferguson certainly delivered a punishing blow with his 5-yard TD run in the third quarter that extended SXU’s lead to 19-7 and allowed it to withstand another Greyhounds score later on. The Cougars kept their foe at arm’s length by forcing them to punt in several instances and hanging onto the ball for the game’s final 6 1/2 minutes.
Ruggles (six solo tackles, seven assists and one pass breakup in addition to the forced fumble) and Dan Fitzgerald (six solos, three assists, pass breakup) were SXU’s defensive ringleaders. The Cougars broke up seven passes in all, recorded six quarterback hurries and forced three turnovers.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” Feminis said. “For the second week in a row every phase of our game was sound and we went toe-to-toe with [the Greyhounds] for four quarters. Our defense is playing with a lot of confidence right now and guys are feeling pretty good about themselves.
“We were matching their physicality up front and our tackling was very good, and we really thought our pace was bothering them. We were playing fast and running quick screens and you could see there were times [Indianapolis players] were sucking some air.”
Quarterback John Rhode completed 19-of-36 passes for 124 yards, 10 of the throws winding up in Nick DeBenedetti’s hands. SXU's senior wideout had 75 yards’ worth of gains.
Feminis said he received a number of postgame texts from other NAIA coaches, congratulating him on the Cougars' success against a big-time opponent. He admitted it was a “statement win” that will be an effective recruiting tool in the future, and his players agreed.
“It was a great team win and it definitely shows we can compete [with anyone],” Lombardo said.
“This is very, very important,” Ferguson said. “A lot of kids say they want to play for a big program, but the thing I [and some others] put a lot of value in is winning. A program with a good tradition where everybody’s close — that’s the kind you want.”
Robert Morris University is the Cougars’ next foe and the critical thing now is to avoid a huge letdown.
“If the guys are feeling so good with themselves that they’re just going through the motions, we’ll be in trouble because this is definitely a trap game,” Feminis said.
“We just have to practice tough all week and we can’t let these last two wins get in our heads [too much],” Lombardo said.
Indianapolis 0 7 7 0 — 14
St. Xavier 6 6 7 0 — 19
First downs 14 21
Yds. rushing 140 172
Yds. passing 156 124
Total yds. 296 296
Att./comp. 33-18 37-19
Fumbles/lost 2-2 1-0
Had intercepted 1 0
Penalties/yds. 10-64 6-30
Punts/avg. 8-41.5 8-37.9
SXU — Khary Ferguson 29 run (kick blocked)
UI — Andrew Walker 4 run (Scott Miller kick)
SXU — Abdul Mahdi 21 field goal
SXU — Mahdi 25 field goal
SXU — Ferguson 5 run (Mahdi kick)
UI — Logan Young 7 pass from Connor Barthel (Miller kick)
St. Xavier Rushing: Ferguson 7-63, Hunter 12-49, Simms 11-31, DeBenedetti 1-13, Rhode 12-7, Ivlow 2-4, Vilimek 1-3, Feeney 1-2. Passing: Rhode 36-19-124, Wells 1-0-0. Receiving: DeBenedetti 10-75, Simms 4-36, Wells 3-13, Feeney 2-0.