FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- That collective gust of wind around 2:45 Saturday afternoon was from University of Saint Francis football fans after an Indiana Wesleyan University two-point attempt that failed leaving the No. 7 Cougars with a 31-30 win.
USF won its fifth game of the season after trailing 14-0 after one quarter and 21-14 at halftime against the Wildcats, who had their four-game winning streak halted. USF rises to a three-way tie with IWU and Siena Heights University for second-place after IWU suffered its first loss in three MSFA Mideast League games.
Martell Williams gave the Cougars the jolt of energy needed on the third play of the third quarter when he galloped 66-yards for a touchdown that knotted the score at 21 after Gavin Gardner kicked the PAT. Williams scored on USF's next possession to give the Cougars a 28-21 lead. Williams finished with his second consecutive 100-plus yards rushing game with 175 yards on 22 carries.
"Not givin' up, believing in each other, that's how we won today," Williams said after USF outscored the Wildcats 17-0 in the third quarter.
Take Chrys Colley for example. After IWU's Brayden Smith caught a pass over Colley for a five-yard touchdown with 39 seconds to play, Colley made the play to deny the two-point conversion pass from running back Jesse Deglow to tightend Charlie Hill.
IWU attempted an onside kick that bounded out of bounds and all USF had to do was snap the ball to QB Heath Simmons, who took a knee as the clock ran to zeros.
"It took some grit, I mean being down at the half, and we had not played well in the last couple weeks," USF Head Coach Kevin Donley said after his 331st career win. "Defense got some stops, we made some plays on offense. It was a tough, hard fought battle. We won the second half. I'm proud of these guys."
While Williams put up a season high and career best rushing, redshirt freshman Heath Simmons threw for 172 yards in his first start in place of junior Matt Crable, who sustained a leg injury in the win over Concordia. Simmons connected on 13-of-22 passes with one interception AND a 31-yard touchdown pass to senior Dan Ricksy in the first quarter. A bad snap on an IWU punt attempt gave USF the ball at the IWU 31-yard line to set up USF's first scoring play with 45 seconds to play.
P.J. Dean, who hadn't played since the win at Robert Morris on Sept. 21, logged some playing time and scored USF's second TD on four-yard run to tie the game at 14 with 5:50 to play. IWU quarterback Zach Blair led the Wildcats back to the lead connecting with Hill for an eight-yard TD pass with 52 seconds left in the half.
Gardner's 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds left in the third quarter gave USF a 31-21 lead while tying Gardner for the career field goals lead with 23 joining Emerson Ueber (2011-13) at the top of the list.
If Donley could have one play back, it was a fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter.
"Hindsight is 20-20, but if I had it to do over, we'd have punted there," Donley admitted. "But we got it done."
A high snap threw the timing off leading to an Eli Wallace rush of a minus-1 rush at the USF 44. The Cougars defense rose to the occasion limiting IWU to a 33-yard Ben Von Gunten field goal with 7:18 to play.
IWU's final drive started with 5:15 to play, covered 64 yards in 11 plays.
Ricksy finished with 86 yards on four receptions to lead USF receivers.
Nick Lucas finished with 11 solo tackles on defense, 12 total to lead the USF defense. Ryan Johnson and Jalen Moss had three PBU's apiece, but the No. 2 team in NAIA with 24.5 sacks came away empty-handed for the first time this season playing with James Jamicich, who did not play due to an injury.