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2013-09-07 Late surge lifts St. Francis past ONU in season opener
2013 Zach Gross (1)

Sophomore quarterback Zach Gross scored on a 61-yard touchdown run in the second quarter Saturday

Late surge lifts St. Francis past ONU in season opener

Author: Nick Birkey
Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2013 at 10:53 AM

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 game.

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 26-21.

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 touchdowns. 

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.