BY JAKE OSWALT
St. Francis scored 38 unanswered points to cruise to a 38-7 victory over Lincoln on Saturday afternoon.
St. Francis fumbled and turned the ball over on the second play of the game, and the Lions (1-2) scored on their second play of the drive from the Red Flash 12-yard line.
Quarterback Doug Cook found Akeem Jordan in the back corner of the end zone on a fade route just 1:03 into the game.
But, the Red Flash did not panic and start throwing the ball. Instead, they kept pounding the run and sent a statement to Division II Lincoln, and eventually cruised to their first win of the season after two losses.
“We always put it on our offensive line to get us started,” St. Francis running back Kyle Harbridge said of the team’s 274 team rushing yards.
“They’re our fuel to our fire of this team. We’re going to go as far as they take us. That’s our forte. That’s our strong point. That’s what we’re good at, so we’re going to continue to run the ball, continue to pound the ball down the field.”
After the Lincoln touchdown, the Red Flash put together a three-play drive that covered 79 yards. Harbridge carried all three times, including a 64-yard run, and punched it in from 7 yards out for a 7-all tie in 1:15.
Greater Johnstown graduate DaQuan Minter came up with an interception, but the Red Flash fumbled the ball right back.
Despite rainy conditions all afternoon, St. Francis had no problem running the football.
The hosts put together another all-run, eight-play, 76-yard drive in the second-quarter, capped by a 2-yard Harbridge touchdown for a 13-7 lead. Harbridge finished with 230 yards on 22 carries (10.5 average) and four touchdowns, tying his own game record. The senior is 445 yards away from becoming the school’s all-time rushing leader.
St. Francis’ Khairi Dickson scored from 2 yards out and added the conversion run for a 21-7 lead 3:47 before halftime.
Special teams played a big factor in the Red Flash victory. St. Francis had 189 yards on six punt returns, shortening the field for the offense. Bishop McCort graduate Dane Domonkos had two returns for 74 yards.
“That was big for us, definitely changed momentum of the game,” Red Flash head coach Chris Villarrial said. “Dane is a great returner for us.”
Coming into the day, St. Francis’ run defense had been victimized for 539 yards in its first two games. On Saturday, the Red Flash gave up just 43 rushing yards on 37 carries, a 1.2 yard average.
“They prepared well all week,” Villarrial said about his run defense. “I think these guys want to send a statement this year. They’re really starting to come into their own. They did a tremendous job for us. They kept us in the game early. They were able to shut them out the rest of the day. We can’t be complacent. We’ve just got to keep getting better each week and keep moving forward.”
Harbridge added two more touchdowns in the third quarter, one coming off a forced fumble from the defense, which forced three turnovers.
Lance Geesey added a 22-yard field with 17 seconds left.
Harbridge said he believes the win was just the first step for the Red Flash.
“That was our main goal coming into today, to go 1-0 today,” he said. “Just get that first win of the season now. We’ve got to build upon that, use this as momentum. We’ve got to correct mistakes because it was a pretty sloppy ballgame offensively, but we’ll correct the mistakes and get better.”
Taking a big-picture look at the performance, Villarrial said he believes improvement is needed to compete in the Northeast Conference this year.
“It was a very sloppy game,” he said. “We can’t play like that and expect to win this conference. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to look at this tape, correct our mistakes and get going.”
St. Francis will host 21st ranked Fordham at DeGol Field next Saturday at noon.