They are 5-1 as the last full week of October winds down. Theyre No. 4 in the latest NAIA poll. And, for the first time in seven weeks, the team they play Saturday is outside the top 25.
These are palmy days for the Saint Francis Cougars, looked at through one prism.
Looked at through another, they take on a distinctly darker tinge.
No week that began with half the coaching and training staff trying to make comfortable a dying man can be said to be devoid of adversity, and thats how this week began for all intents and purposes.
Around 9 p.m. Saturday, a westbound vehicle crossed the median on Interstate 80/94 and hit one of the Saint Francis team buses. Saint Francis assistant coaches Solomon Grimes, Cody Williamson and Pat Mahorney, plus the trainers, piled out of the bus and went to the car. Inside, they found 21-year-old Joshua Walberg, bleeding and in dire straits, and his 21-year-old girlfriend, Shawnna Popenhagen.
You know, Grimes father is a minister, so (going to their aid) seemed like second nature to him, said Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley, who was on the other bus. When we got everybody together later – we were waiting on another bus at the oasis – we dealt with it right then and there. We had everyone pray for the families involved, the young man and woman; thats how we dealt with it.
It was a traumatic beginning to a week that got worse. On Wednesday, an MRI revealed that running back Garrett Harvey, who went out of the Cougars 37-28 win over Saint Francis (Ill.), was out for the season with an ACL tear. Hes the second front-line running back the Cougars have lost this season; all-conference back Antoin Campbell suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a loss to Grand View (Iowa) on Sept. 28.
And thats not all. In addition to Harvey, the Cougars will be without offensive lineman Jess Boley for the next two weeks, and starting quarterback Josh Miller is a game-time decision with a recurring ankle injury when Saint Francis (5-1, 2-0 MSFA Mideast) plays host to Robert Morris (5-3, 1-2) on Saturday.
The good news: All of this seems to have made the Cougars stronger.
When Campbell went down, Harvey came on to rush for 79 yards and a touchdown in a 25-17 win over Siena Heights. When Harvey went down, freshman Jason Nicodemus came on to rush for 128 yards and touchdown against Saint Francis (Ill.). And when Miller has struggled, David Yoder has sparked Cougars, throwing for 250 yards and three touchdowns against Siena Heights, 262 yards and two scores in the win over Saint Xavier and 262 yards and two scores last week.
Its been kind of unfortunate that weve had so many injuries, Yoder said. But its good that we have the depth, that we can have guys come in and not really miss a beat.
Linebacker Koree Terrell concurs.
The way we deal with it is, we understand its the next man up, he said. We have a lot of young players, but theyve all embraced that. The coaches trust us; as players, we trust each other. So when we say its the next man up, we know its our duty to take on that responsibility and to fill our needs.
The Cougars might have known that already. But they surely know it now.
Great teams and successful people dont make adversity an excuse, they make it an opportunity, Donley says. We learned a lot in the Grand View game. They had a good football team, but I think where we are mentally right now and our maturity as opposed to (that game) is unbelievable.
Note: Saint Francis senior kicker Emerson Ueber was named MSFA Mideast Special Teams Player of the Week after he scored 13 points in the 37-28 win at Saint Francis (Ill.) on Saturday. Ueber, a Bishop Luers grad, kicked field goals of 29, 23 and 20 yards in the second half.