Article and photo provided by Greg Gorham, Saint Xavier (Ill.) Associate Athletic Director for Sports Information
CHICAGO, Ill. – Making his first appearance in a Cougar uniform, junior quarterback Justin Hunniford (JR/Frankfort, Ill.) led No. 24 Saint Xavier (Ill.) to their first win over a top-5 ranked program in four years, as SXU upset No. 5 Marian (Ind.) 32-27 in the 2017 season opener at Deaton Field on Thursday night.
The Cougars (1-0) were in command early, taking a 26-7 halftime lead before the visiting Knights (0-1) rallied after the break, briefly taking a lead with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter. A 54-yard touchdown pass from Hunniford to Chris Simmons (SO/LaGrange Park, Ill.) put the Cougars back on top in the team's final drive of the night.
After both sides traded punts to start the game, SXU got on the board after a 47-yard Nick Czeszewski (SO/Oak Forest, Ill.) reception, and an eight-yard TD scramble from Hunniford. Both defenses held strong throughout the rest of the first quarter until another long pass play - this time 78 yards to Harold Davis (SO/Joliet, Ill.) – set up another quarterback rush for the score to give the Cougars a 13-0 advantage with 13:44 in the second quarter.
The Knights responded with their first scoring drive of the night, going 75 yards in nine plays to cut the SXU lead to 13-7 midway through the second quarter. Saint Xavier nearly went three-and-out on the following drive, but a penalty on third down gave the Cougars another chance; four plays later, Hunniford found Drey Devereaux (SR/Michigan City, Ind.) for a 25-yard TD pass to increase the lead to 20-7.
Senior kicker Abdul Mahdi (SR/Chicago, Ill.) extended the lead with a pair of field goals late in the first half, including one from 53 yards out, tying Virgis Zuromskas for the third-longest field goal in program history.
Marian began their comeback late in the third quarter, using a 10-play, 60-yard drive resulting in the first of three unanswered touchdowns.
With the Cougars leading 26-21 and 10:15 left on the clock, senior punter Joe Bailey (SR/Lemont, Ill.) set the Knights up on their own 15-yard line, but the visitors would go 85 yards in 15 plays, taking the lead on a one-yard quarterback sneak, 27-26 with 3:08 left to play.
Saint Xavier slowly worked the ball
Marian would take one last attempt to take the win, but Dmitri Joe (JR/LaGrange Park, Ill.)'s strip-sack and Jeff Cesario (SR/New Lenox, Ill.)'s fumble recovery clinched the Cougars first 1-0 start since 2014.
Hunniford collected 425 passing yards on the night, completing 24-of-36 passes. Nick Czeszewski collected 131 receiving yards on four catches to lead the team, while Harold Davis posted 108 yards on four receptions. Simmons was just short of a 100-yard performance, with 96 yards on five catches. Running back Mike Ivlow (SR/Channahon, Ill.) finished with a team-high 16 yards on four carries.
Tionte McDaniel (SO/Markham, Ill.) tallied 14 tackles to lead the SXU defense, while linebacker Omar Salazar (JR/Plainfield, Ill.) had 12 tackles and Joe posted 11 tackles with two tackles for loss and one sack.
Saint Xavier will look to keep the momentum next weekend, when they make their road debut at Missouri Baptist on Saturday, September 9. Kickoff from St. Louis is set for 11:00 a.m. CDT.