For St. Xavier seniors, great run comes to end
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media December 2, 2012 9:38PM
St. Xavier’s Jacob Ghinazzi (24) and Carven Proctor (41) take a knee after Saturday’s loss to Morningside. | Steve Millar~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 4, 2013 6:11AM
After St. Xavier’s chance for back-to-back NAIA national championships ended with Saturday’s 47-19 loss to Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, the Cougars were left to think about missed chances and unlucky bounces.
Morningside fumbled three times in the first half but recovered them all and eventually scored touchdowns on all three drives.
“It was kind of a crazy day,” St. Xavier coach Mike Feminis said. “They put the ball on the ground three times and we normally take advantage of those situations, but it just didn’t happen today.
“For whatever reason, it just seemed like it wasn’t meant to be today. In games like this you wish you’d played your ‘A’ game, but it didn’t happen and Morningside played a great game.”
In improving to 13-0, the Mustangs took advantage of just about every opportunity the Cougars (11-2) gave them.
“We never caught a break with big plays,” said St. Xavier linebacker Dave Marciano, a St. Rita alum. “They were connecting on it every time. It was just big play after big play and they hit them at the right time for scores.”
Morningside quarterback Joel Nixon continued his terrific run through the playoffs, earning Offensive Player of the Game honors for the third straight game.
He completed 22-of-34 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns, and a Cougars defense that entered the game allowing just 13.9 points per game had no answer.
Though the final score indicates dominance, total yards tell a different story.
St. Xavier was outgained just 476-429, but twice settled for field goals after getting inside the Morningside 10-yard line, had two drives ended when Jared Goforth intercepted Jimmy Coy and had two third-quarter drives stall with turnovers on downs deep in Mustangs territory.
“Offensively, we were moving the ball all day,” Feminis said. “We had to settle for field goals. We had a costly penalty. We shot ourselves in the foot a lot.”
Though the Cougars’ dreams of a repeat ended, Feminis was happy with the way they handled the pressure of being defending national champions all season.
“I’m so proud of these guys for what they’ve accomplished the last four seasons,” he said. “A championship and four (semifinal appearances). I don’t think many programs can say that.
“When you have that bull’s eye on your back every week and still have the season we had, I think that says a lot about our guys. We fell short, but we have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Eleven senior starters — seven on offense and four on defense — concluded their St. Xavier careers.
“It was the greatest experience of my life,” senior wide receiver Chase Catton said. “I had four years here with the greatest guys in the world. We had a great run and we had a great time doing it. I can always take away the fact that I’ll always have a (national championship) ring.”
The most decorated senior class in school history went 51-5 over the last four seasons.
“They’re about as special a group as you can have,” Feminis said, struggling to fight back tears. “We had a great program before, but the last four years I think we’ve risen to the top of the pedestal for small-college football and those guys had a lot to do with it.”
The Cougars will have to reload in a hurry in order to reach double digits in wins for the fifth straight season next year, but they certainly will not be lacking motivation.
“This is the same taste we got when we lost to Carroll (in the 2010 semifinals) and then we came back and won a national championship,” Marciano said. “We’re going to lose a lot of guys, but that’s what stepping up is for.”