Sophomore quarterback Zach Gross scored on a 61-yard touchdown run in the second quarter Saturday
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — On a special Saturday night for
football, the ONU football team opened the 2013 season looking to better what happened a year ago. However, for the second straight year, Olivet
Nazarene University struggled to shut the door late on St. Francis (Ill.).
Olivet was anxious to avenge last year’s
double-overtime defeat. With a five-point lead late (13:55 remaining), the
Tigers had an opportunity. St. Francis had
different ideas, scoring 22 unanswered points in the last nine minutes to seal
The Tigers (0-1) hung in the game for the first half despite
being outgained heavily in yardage. After going down a touchdown early, the Tiger defense stepped up. Junior linebacker Michael Williams (LaGrange Park, Ill.) snatched a fumble from the Saints and ran it
back 76 yards for a touchdown, giving the home team a 7-6 lead which they took
into the second quarter. In the second
quarter, senior kicker Andrew
Muzljakovich (Vicksburg, Mich.) hit his first field goal of the season, a
career-long 49-yard field goal attempt, to make it 10-6.
St. Francis (1-0) scored the next 12 points on long E.J.
White passes to Elliot Allen and Troy Torrence. With the Tigers' trailing 18-10, sophomore
quarterback Zach Gross (Elgin, Ill.) — who
took over for an injured Ryan Sample
(Manteno, Ill.) — broke out a 61-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to one. With just seven seconds remaining in the half, the Saints made it 21-17. Combined with the Saint’s two missed two-point
attempts and a missed PAT, Olivet was down just four at the half.
Muzljakovich started the second half with a booming 48-yard
field goal to bring the Tigers within a point, capping off a 10 play, 29-yard
drive that took 4:19 off the clock. The Olivet defense spent more than 33
minutes of time on field and ended up holding the Saints scoreless in the third
quarter, giving the Tigers a chance to come back in the fourth. Over the next 5:25, the Tigers went 11 plays for 85 yards, converting six first
downs. Freshman Ryan Sample (Manteno,
Ill.) kept it and ran it in from one yard for the go-ahead touchdown, his first of his career. The two-point conversion failed, but the Tigers led
St. Francis immediately answered with a 75-yard
touchdown drive over the next 5:20. E.J. White threw his third touchdown pass
of the night. The two-point conversion was good to give the Saints a 29-26 lead
in the fourth quarter. Olivet was given
the next chance to recapture the lead, but a costly fumble ended the Tiger
drive. Pver the next seven minutes, St. Francis added two more touchdowns to
take a 17-point lead.
For the Tigers, Zach Gross ran 10 times for 91 yards and a
touchdown. David Payne (Chebanse, Ill.) ran 11 times for 44 yards.
Michael Williams led the Tigers with 11 tackles, one and
half tackles for loss (two yards), and a fumble recovery for a score. Junior Brandon Ruemler (Williamsport, Ind.)
had eight tackles, one sack (10 yards), one tackle for loss (10 yards), and
one forced fumble. Sophomore defensive
end Ron France (St. Charles, Ill.) had seven
tackles and two and half tackles for a loss for 13 yards.
Saints quarterback E.J. White was 23 of 29 for 429 yards and
six touchdowns. He also ran for 106 yards on 19 carries. Elliot Allen caught
four balls for 167 yards a score, and Sheldon Magee caught three balls and two
The Tigers will be back on the field on Saturday,
September 14, on the road at Robert Morris University (Ill.) starting at 1 p.m.
The Eagles play at Morris Field in Arlington Heights, Ill.