OSKALOOSA, Iowa - (Box Score) For the second time this season, the Statesmen defense found paydirt twice in a 19-8 win over No. 15 St. Francis (Ill.) in Mid-States Football Association Midwest League action Saturday.
No. 5 William Penn (Iowa) (6-0, 3-0 MWL) was a anemic on the offensive end, tallying just 186 yards, all on the ground. The defense, although bending a little, still only gave up 296 yards to an offense that includes high-powered quarterback E.J. White. The signal-caller entered the contest averaging 339 yards per game, while the Fighting Saints (4-3, 2-1 MWL) were gobbling up 432.7 yards per game prior to Saturday.
The more important aspect of the defensive effort, though, was its big-play potential that came out in spades in the clash of the two teams picked to finish highest in the league.
The offense actually began the show as it accepted the opening kickoff and marched 88 yards on 11 plays. The drive finally culminated in Taylor Parsons diving across the line from one yard out. A stiff northern wind played havoc all day, especially on kicker Marcus Kerrigan as his extra point attempt was blown to the left and clanked off the upright. William Penn still led 6-0 at the 9:50 mark.
Parsons paced the offense with 58 rushing yards, while Shawn Davis added 50.
St. Francis looked to return the favor right away. White completed two of his first three passes to move the pigskin into Statesmen territory, but at the end of the second completion, the navy and gold stepped up.
Joseph Frye stripped the ball from receiver Dustin Greenwell near the sideline and Jacob Batterson scooped it up. The junior then returned it 54 yards untouched for the score. Kerrigan's point after blew off to the right, but the home team still led 12-0 six minutes in.
The Fighting Saints answered back with a 38-field goal by Sean Murray to make it 12-3 midway through the first quarter. That score held into halftime.
The visitors finally broke up the monotony in the third quarter, driving down to the William Penn eight-yard line before finally being forced to take a 25-yard field goal by Murray.
The ensuing kickoff made things even more interesting as returner Ed Cazenave touched the ball just outside of the endzone. He bobbled the ball a bit before finally gathering possession. Instead of moving forward, though, he took a step back and kneeled down inside the endzone. Unfortunately, because he touched the ball outside of the endzone, he was not permitted the touchback. Instead a two-point safety was given to St. Francis, narrowing the advantage to 12-8 with 6:38 still left in the third stanza.
The Fighting Saints, eyeing the jugular, took the next kickoff and moved down to the Statesmen 22-yard line. White, who had already been intercepted once in the first quarter by Nick DiMarco, sought out another short pass, but instead Perry King stepped in front and picked it off. The linebacker then dashed to the north endzone, but ran out of gas and was caught at the two-yard line.
Awal Umaru not only brought King to the turf, but also forced a fumble.
Fellow linebacker Brock Peery was one of the players in the scrum, and after a lengthy discussion by the officials, he was awarded the fumble recovery touchdown. Kerrigan's extra point went through this time and with 17:13 left in regulation, the lead ballooned back to 19-8.
Although the visitors reached the red zone twice in their final two possessions, neither drive netted points (missed field goal, downs) and William Penn escaped to remain perfect in 2012.
"That was an outstanding win for our team," Head Coach Todd Hafner said. "Our kids played with passion and were very focused."
"Again, our defense was outstanding and was flying to the ball and causing huge turnovers," Hafner added. "Offensively, we just could not get in a rhythm, and not having the ball much in the second half did not help that. Fortunately, we had two big drives, including one that lasted over seven minutes and really drained the clock near the end. We are very proud of our team for their effort."
Defensive Coordinator Brad Griffin reiterated Hafner's words.
"Our defense did a great job and never gave up," Griffin said. "St. Francis moved the ball a bit more than we would have liked, but we stuck to our game plan and came up with the big plays."
Griffin said his team's first goal was to stop the multi-dimensional White. He finished with 181 yards on 24-of-42 passing and ran eight times for -3 yards.
"We knew he was a great runner, so we made our defensive ends responsible for him and forced him to get rid of the ball," Griffin said. "Fortunately, we played extremely fast, faster than they were and faster than they thought we would be. That allowed us to get to places and come up with those huge turnovers and scoring plays."
Four different players--Batterson, King, DiMarco, and Peery--all finished with a team-high eight tackles. Six passes were broke up by Statesmen defenders.