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NAIA Football: St. Xavier back on road for another semi

St. Xavier linebacker Zack Dolph (22) Joliet Catholic product has recorded school-record 120 tackles including 19 tackles for loss 3½

St. Xavier linebacker Zack Dolph (22), a Joliet Catholic product, has recorded a school-record 120 tackles, including 19 tackles for a loss, and 3½ sacks this season for the Cougars. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media

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Semi-Tough

What: NAIA Championship Series semifinal

Who: No. 4 St. Xavier (11-1) at No. 3 Morningside College (12-0)

When: Noon Saturday

Where: Elwood Olsen Stadium, Sioux City, Iowa

Radio: WXAV-FM (88.3)

Video webcast: http://new.livestream.com/msideMCTV

The other semifinal: No. 5 Marian University (Ind.) (10-1) at No. 2 Missouri Valley College (12-0), 1 p.m. Saturday

NAIA National Championship Game: 5:30 p.m. Dec. 13 at Barron Stadium, Rome, Ga.

TV: CBS Sports Network

Updated: December 30, 2012 3:42PM



Another year, another semifinal road trip for St. Xavier.

The defending NAIA national champion Cougars, ranked fourth, will play on the road in the national semifinals for the fourth straight season when they meet No. 3 Morningside College at noon Saturday in Sioux City, Iowa.

“Hopefully, our experience with this helps a lot,” St. Xavier quarterback Jimmy Coy said. “We’ve been put in pretty much any situation you can be in. A lot of our seniors will be playing in their fourth semifinal.

“We know they’re going to be at their best, though, and we’ll have to bring our ‘A’ game to advance.”

St. Xavier (11-1) lost in the semifinals in 2009 and ’10 before punching its first ticket to the national championship game by topping rival Marian in a 30-27 thriller last year in Indianapolis.

“We know that just to get to the national championship last year we had to go on the road and pull that game out against Marian,” St. Xavier coach Mike Feminis said. “This is old hat for us. Our guys are certainly battle-tested.”

Morningside (12-0) figures to present a strong challenge on both sides of the ball. The Mustangs lead the nation defensively, allowing just 11.3 points per game. They rank third in scoring average, with 45.3 points per game.

Morningside quarterback Joel Nixon has passed for 3,279 yards and 43 touchdowns and also leads the team in rushing with 738 yards. He accounted for five TDs as the Mustangs survived a quarterfinal shootout with Southern Oregon, winning 47-44 in overtime.

“Morningside’s offense is somewhat similar to ours,” said St. Xavier linebacker Mike Bushnell, an Andrew alum. “You don’t really know if that’s an advantage or disadvantage. Both teams have practiced against this offense day in and day out.

“It will be a dogfight.”

The Cougars have allowed just 13.9 points per game. Junior linebacker Zack Dolph (Joliet Catholic) has recorded a school-record 120 tackles, including 19 tackles for a loss, and has 3½ sacks.

Oak Lawn product Greg Hayward has recorded a team-high seven sacks while linebacker Dave Marciano (St. Rita) has 81 tackles and three sacks. Lemont product Clayton Fejedelem (76 tackles, 3 interceptions) and Brother Rice alum Jeremy Rhodes (6 interceptions) lead the secondary.

Coy has passed for 3,058 yards and 33 touchdowns, and has several playmakers to target, including Shane Zackery (1,042 yards, 13 TD), Wes Gastel (678, 7) and Chase Catton (560, 6).

Oak Lawn alum Nick Pesek has 1,085 yards and eight touchdowns rushing, along with 447 yards receiving and two scores.

“We’ve got a bunch of weapons and a lot of talented guys catching the ball,” Coy said. “It definitely makes things easier for me.”

St. Xavier’s motto all year has been “Return to Rome,” — a reference to the Rome, Ga., site of the Dec. 13 national title game.

Now, the Cougars are finally 60 minutes away from booking another trip south.

“We’ve got one more step to reach that ultimate goal,” Feminis said. “In some ways, it seems like that championship game was yesterday, but on the flip side it seems like this season has lasted an eternity just to get here. We’re not satisfied.”

Indeed, Coy said he thinks the Cougars are “hungrier than last year.”

A common discussion point has been the fact that many players win championships, but few win two straight.

“They always say that it’s harder to win the second one,” Bushnell said. “Not many people can say they’ve done it back-to-back years. Everyone on this team would love to have that honor.

“We’re all hungry to get back to Rome and have that chance.”



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