BY JAKE OSWALT
Fourth-year starting quarterback John Kelly wanted to use Saturday’s game against Sacred Heart as a spring board to more future success for the St. Francis football program. He and 15 other seniors led the way to a 44-24 victory to finish with a
5-6 (4-4 Northeast Conference) record, the most wins since moving to the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) level.
“It’s huge,” Kelly said after his great senior day performance. “We knew it was going to take something like this to turn this program around. They’re on their way. They’re trying to turn this thing around. They got to keep this momentum going and they’re going to be one heck of a team next year.”
St. Francis took advantage of a fumble on Sacred Heart’s second play of the game. The Red Flash settled for a Josh Thiel 21-yard field goal for an early lead.
Sacred Heart (2-9, 1-7 NEC) answered two series later on a field goal drive of their own, tying at 3.
St. Francis took control by scoring the next 24 points (21 in the second quarter). Kelly faked a handoff to his right and rolled to his left and found tight end Kevin Parker dragging across the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown pass.
After Sacred Heart missed a field goal, the Red Flash marched 80 yards on 6 plays. Anthony Abeid took a pitch to his right untouched for a 35-yard score. St. Francis scored again with only 20 seconds left in the half. The drive took only 1:25 with Kelly running off right tackle for a 10-yard touchdown for a 24-3 halftime lead.
Thiel made history in the third quarter, breaking St. Francis’ career record for PAT kicks and field goals made. Thiel added 23 and 31 yard field goals to finish 11-12 on the season.
“Josh is a kid that never gave up,” St. Francis head coach Chris Villarrial said. “He struggled early in his career, but he kept fighting. He’s going to be tough to replace.”
Bishop McCort graduate Dane Domonkos gave the Red Flash a spark with 47- and 37-yard kick returns in the third quarter, one week after returning a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.
“We struggled early in the season with kick returns,” Villarrial said. “The past two weeks has really helped put us in great field position.”
Domonkos caught a 8-yard touchdown throw from Kelly to cap a drive he started with a great return for a 34-10 lead.
Sacred Heart’s Keshaudas Spence finished with 21 carries for 131 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Pioneers’ offense.
Kelly led an offense that racked up 402 total yards, including 344 on the ground. Kelly had a game-high 187 rushing yards and a touchdown. He finished 6-12 through the air with 58 yards and 3 touchdowns.
“The offensive line has carried this team all season,” Kelly said. They didn’t let up today. Everyone did great and put our seniors out on a good note.
“You don’t get much tougher than John Kelly,” Villarrial said. “This university, community, everyone should be thankful for John Kelly. He led us into battle and never gave up on us. His heart is irreplaceable.”
Villarrial was optimistic about what this break-through season will do for the program in the future. St. Francis lost three of its conference games by 12 total points, showing they are more competitive and ready to take the next step in 2013.
“It feels very good for the seniors that have been through a lot,” said Villarrial
“They never stopped believing and gave us 110 percent. This means a lot to this university, this community. These kids never quit. We want to change the culture here. We want to make this a winning program. Hopefully, this builds some momentum for the future. We got to get another good recruiting class in here. We need to keep taking the steps forward to be successful. Our goal was to make this community proud of our football team, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”
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