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Red Flash Intercept Seven Passes, Shut Out Pioneers
A week ago, St. Francis players trudged off the field at Morehead State University, shaking their heads after losing 31-21 and falling to 0-2 on the season.
But first-year coach Chris Villarrial’s squad never lost faith, with the coaches returning to basic fundamental football in practice during the week, an approach that showed positive results on Saturday.
The Red Flash put together an impressive performance at DeGol Field, overwhelming Sacred Heart 41-0.
In all, the Red Flash picked off seven passes in the game, the secondary making up for giving up 458 yards last week against Morehead.
What made the performance by the Red Flash defense so impressive was that Sacred Heart quarterback Dale Fink entered the game as the leading passer in the NEC with 553 passing yards. He was 13 of 32 for 72 yards and four interceptions on Saturday.
The win was the first Northeast Conference victory for the Red Flash in their first conference game. Playing before a regional television audience, the players handed Villarrial his first victory in a special performance.
“After last week, a big emphasis for us this week was changing it up,” Villarrial said. “For our defensive backs, there’s not a player in America that can go back there and cover someone for six seconds, so we went back to the drawing board, back to the basics. We practiced pass rush with the linebackers, the lineman, and it showed up today. I’m real proud of the guys for that.”
The win was significant because the team played so well in many areas. Sophomore running back Kyle Harbridge rushed for 115 yards on the ground, recorded 84 passing, and had 11 on a kickoff returns for 210 all-purpose yards.
Sophomore quarterback John Kelly, who had struggled in the first two games, completed 11 of 18 passes for three touchdowns. He threw one interception. His performance pleased Villarrial, who was the offensive coordinator last season.
“We reeled Kelly back in a little bit and brought him back to the basics,” Villarrial said.
“(Offensive coordinator) Ralph DelSardo sat him down and talked to him. We’re looking for great things from John.
“But we’ve dropped some balls these past two weeks, so we’re going to keep on the receivers as well.”
Kelly found Harbridge for a 16-yard touchdown at the 12:51 mark of the first quarter, culminating a five-play, 85-yard drive. Josh Thiel booted the extra point for a 7-0 lead. Kelly then found former Central Cambria player Jeff Wasilewski for a 9-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, the first collegiate TD reception for Wasilewski. Thiel’s kick gave the Flash a 14-0 lead at halftime.
The Red Flash linebackers also performed well. Senior Scott Lewis, former Bishop McCort standout, recorded nine tackles to reach 422 for his career. He is within reach of the NEC record of 447.
However, fellow senior LB Matthew Parker etched his name into the record book as he picked off a flat pass from Sacred Heart back-up quarterback Ray Sheehan and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown. That is the longest interception return in St. Francis history.
Freshman linebacker Jerome Mathews picked off a Sacred Heart pass at the St. Francis 46 and returned it to the Sacred Heart 5 earlier in the fourth quarter, leading to a Dan Conley touchdown.
The Red Flash scored once in the third quarter for a 21-0 lead before tallying 20 points in the fourth quarter.
Andrew Penksa, a freshman punter from Bishop McCort, averaged 45.4 yards per punt on seven punts.
St. Francis will be off next week before hosting Robert Morris on Oct. 2 at Degol Field.
By The Tribune Democrat