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Battled-tested St. Francis ready to open NEC play
Despite leading two Top 25 poll opponents late in the second half, the St. Francis football team has a 1-3 record. The three losses were to Georgia Southern, James Madison, and Fordham.
St. Francis led 14-3 and was tied at 17 on the road at James Madison before falling 24-20 on Sept. 14. Last week, SFU led 5-0 Fordham, which beat Temple this year, 20-17 at the end of the third quarter. The Rams scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win 38-20.
But, playing three Top 25 teams in the Football Championship Subdivision has prepared the Red Flash well for Northeast Conference play, which starts today on the road at Central Connecticut State (1-4) with a 1 p.m. kickoff.
The Red Flash have learned from their mistakes and will use those experiences to build on and improve for NEC play. Perhaps most importantly, the ability to close out games and play strong for four quarters will be key in the NEC.
The running game has been St. Francis’ staple ever since Chris Villarrial took over coaching duties in 2010. The Red Flash have run for 222 yards per game this season, while only averaging 103.3 passing yards per game and completing 40.9 percent of their passes.
The ground game has been led by senior running back Kyle Harbridge, who rushed for 291 yards against Fordham, the third-most rushing yards by St. Francis in a single game.
Harbridge accounted for 384 all-purpose yards on the day, second only to his own performance in 2011 with 457 all-purpose yards. This season, Harbridge has rushed for 753 yards, the second highest total in the FCS and just 13 yards behind Tim Flanders of Sam Houston State.
The Easton native averages 188.3 rushing yards per game and 236.3 all-purpose yards per game, both leading the FBS level. He has scored seven rushing touchdowns his past two games.
Harbridge was named to the Walter Payton Award watch list and was named the College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) all-purpose performer of the week and NEC offensive player of the week for the second consecutive week.
Harbridge, who missed all of 2012 with a knee injury, also was named a semifinalist for the National Football Foundation (NFF) Campbell Trophy, perhaps the most prestigious scholar-athlete award in the nation.
This season, Harbridge has set the career all-purpose yards mark, the career rushing touchdown record, tied his own touchdown record for a single game and has come close to breaking his own records for single-game rushing yards and all-purpose yards. Harbridge is now just 154 yards behind Todd Harris for the St. Francis career rushing mark, and needs just one more touchdown to tie Michael Caputo for the total touchdown record at 32.
St. Francis’ passing defense has been a positive through the first four games, giving up an average of 172.8 yards per game, good for first in the NEC.
However, St. Francis is also allowing 192.5 rushing yards per game, including 306 yards to the run-heavy Georgia Southern option attack.
Junior linebacker Bishop Neal led the defense against Fordham with 12 tackles (4.5 tackles for a loss) and a sack. Neal was named the CFPA national defensive performer of the week and linebacker performer of the week. Neal is tied for the team lead at 26 tackles with senior safety Jake DeMedal.
Greater Johnstown graduate and cornerback DaQuan Minter leads the team with three interceptions and six passes defended.
Villarrial is 2-1 in NEC openers. The Red Flash will look to reverse its recent series history with Central Connecticut State.
Central Connecticut is 17-3 against St. Francis, with the Red Flash last winning in 2011 at home. St. Francis will look to improve upon its 4-4 record in NEC action last year, the most wins the Red Flash have won in the conference since joining the NEC in 1996.
Today’s game will be streamed online at ESPN3.com.
St. Francis returns home Oct. 12 against Monmouth for a noon kickoff at DeGol Field.
By JAKE OSWALT, The Tribune Democrat