FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- All that was missing was a roof.
NAIA No. 2 Saint Francis (Ind.) withstood or survived or dodged a No. 7 St. Ambrose (Iowa) comeback bid, 38-37, in a thriller that resembled an arena football clash in front of a near capacity crowd at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium on an 'autumn eve' Saturday night.
More than 4,000 fans took advantage of a perfect night for college football, though it sure felt like a post-season NAIA Football Championship Series clash. USF and SAU combined for 1,203 yards of total offense. Freshman Seth Coate's fourth quarter TD catch at the back of the end zone and senior Emerson Ueber's point-after-touchdown proved to be the difference in the end for the Cougars (2-0).
But it took super-hero efforts from junior running back Antoin Campbell and senior quarterback Josh Miller to get to the point that Coate's and Ueber's plays made the difference. Campbell, last week's Mid-States Football Association Mideast League Offense Player of the Week, delivered career high production -- four TDs rushing, 190 yards rushing with a USF-record 37 carries. Miller passed for a career high 412 yards on 25 of 37 connections including the 8-yard fade to Coate with 11:49 to play in the game.
Cam Smith was Miller's primary target, Smith finishing with a career high 151 yards on six receptions, several in the 'how-did-he-do-that' stratosphere. Miller connected with nine other USF receivers at least once. Along with his rushing total, Campbell grabbed four Miller passes for 76 yards for 266 all-purpose yards that helped USF improve to 10-0 in night games. It also improved the USF home record to 86-11 all-time and winners of 70 of the Cougars' last 74 home games.
The Cougars finally got the game in the win column when sophomore Quinn Treiber's 41-yard field goal try as time expired fell well short of winning the game for SAU (1-1). USF got another deal breaker when SAU senior receiver Mitch Overstreet couldn't hang on to an Eric Williamson pass in the end zone near the goal line that would have put SAU up 39-38 with 3:37 to play.
A year ago it Overstreet who caught the game-winning two-point conversion pass from Williamson giving the then 20th-ranked Fighting Bees a 15-14 win at No. 6 USF.
SAU had drawn within a point when Kelly barreled in from the USF 2-yard line capping a 13-play, 66-yard drive that started following a 53-yard Kollin Carman punt, Carman's third consecutive 50-plus yard punt.
Williamson, the 2012 MSFA MWL Offensive Player of the Year, finished with 339 yard passing and three TD passes. He connected on 30 of 50 passes and threw two interceptions. His favorite target was Sam O'Donnell, who caught half of Williamson's completions (15) for 158 yards including a 42-yard TD snag. Senior running back Cole Kelly ran for 112 yards on 24 carries including SAU's final TD that set up the two-point conversion attempt.
Coate got a toe-nail down at the back of the USF end zone with 11:49 to play after leaping to snare Miller's pass. Ueber knocked the PAT through and USF led 38-28, just enough to secure the 'W'.
"Josh said run a vertical and I said all right, throw it up," Coate said. "That's exactly what he did and it turned out for the positive."
Seth's father, Doug, is running backs coach for the Cougars. Seth has been running around on this field catching passes and playing 'games' after USF games since 2000, so it really feels like home to the 6-foot-3 receiver.
"My dad's been here as coach since 2000, and playing is totally different and I absolutely love it," Coate told USF Director of Broadcasting Jeff Mahoney afterwards. He also had a 19-yard reception to finish with 27 yards.
"Seth made a great play, went up and got it," Miller said. "He was a basketball player (in high school), so I don't want to say that's what he's best at, but he's a real athlete. He can go up and get it. (Aaron) Knight had a great first half, but couldn't go in the second half. Cody (Appenzeller) and Steven Espinoza stepped in and made some plays, and Cam had a really big game.
"We've got many receivers more than capable of doing a great job," Miller added. "And Antoin is the best back I've ever played with, but he would be the first to tell you he couldn't do it, I couldn't do it without those guys blockin' up front. They deserve so much credit for making what Antoin and myself and (Garrett) Harvey do possible.
"It's a great feeling to win tonight, but we left some points out there," Miller said.
Miller's 412 yards passing are the most by a USF QB since 2002, when Chris Bramell threw for 403 yards against Taylor.
"He's a winner, he make things happen," USF Head Coach Kevin Donley said after getting career win No. 265. "What a great performance for this football team; 651 yards, wow. Can't ask for much more than that. (Williamson) was Player of the Year in the Midwest and a pre-season All-American, so we expected him to have an excellent game. He may be the best we see this season."
Kory Stamps, who had one of USF's two interceptions, was on the field for SAU's game-winning field goal attempt.
"I realized it was a miss when the guy blocked me through the gap let up and I turned around and realized it was a miss," Stamps said. "I just celebrated with Taylor Brown.
Campbell was satisfied to be on the sideline for that FG attempt.
"I trust those guys we have out on defense," Campbell said. "They gave up 37, but they played their tails off tonight on defense."
SAU led by seven points three times before the Cougars outscored the Fighting Bees 17-0 after falling behind 28-21 after a 12-yard Williamson to Overstreet TD pass at 8:25 of the third quarter. Ueber kicked a 24-yard field goal at 5:29 cutting the USF deficit to four, 28-24. After SAU stalled at the USF 46 and punted, Miller guided the Cougars back in front for good.
Campbell plunged in from the SAU 7-yard line capping a six-play, 91-yard drive that included a USF false-start penalty. Campbell caught two Miller passes for 20 and 40 yards. Cody Appenzeller caught a 23-yard pass to help USF regain the lead in just two minutes, 12 seconds.
Treiber connected on his first field goal of the season at 8:31 after an 11-play, 45-yard SAU drive to slice the Fighting Bees' deficit to 38-31 after Coate's TD grab.
The road doesn't get any easier next Saturday when USF returns to SAU's home state, Iowa, to play NAIA No. 9 Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa. Grand View is 3-0 after winning at No. 16 Marian, 30-7, on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Fort Wayne time.