LORETTO - Chris Villarrial has something pretty good going on for him in home openers since taking over as head coach of the St. Francis football team three years ago.
In fact it's been so good that he probably wishes every game he coaches would be home openers up in the friendly confines of Loretto.
In Villarrial's first two seasons, his team has won both home-openers, scoring a combined total of 91 points.
Villarrial and his Red Flash team were at it again, this time beating Bryant for the first time in the program's history by a score of 39-28 Saturday at DeGol Field.
"It feels great," Villarrial said. "It was the first time we have defeated Bryant. We're fortunate that we pulled it out."
St. Francis established the ground game from the get-go, rushing 14 times for 118 yards in the first quarter alone. Altoona Area High School graduate and former Florida State super-athlete A.J. Alexander was pretty quiet in the season opener last week at James Madison, catching just two balls for 4 yards and rushing just once for minus 2 yards. He was anything but quiet Saturday, getting eight touches for 82 yards and scoring two touchdowns. He also completed one pass for 30 yards. Alexander scored the first TD of the game for the Red Flash, on a 23 yard run that gave his team an early 7-0 lead.
Villarrial raved about Alexander's versatility and athleticism following the game.
"A.J. is very talented, and any time he has the ball in his hands, he's a threat to score," Villarrial said. "We try to be creative with him."
Following a pair of scores, the Bulldogs took a 14-7 lead. John Kelly came out in his first possession of the second quarter and threw his first of two touchdown passes, this one a 4-yarder to Valshawn Wallace. But the Bulldogs blocked the ensuing PAT by Josh Thiel.
St. Francis was able to regain the lead when Bishop Neal tackled a Bulldogs runner in the end zone before he could cross the plane of the end zone. The Bulldogs, just after the Red Flash was able to take a 15-14 lead, took over with a short field after Kelly was picked off by Bryant. Bryant needed only three plays to go 22 yards, as Mike Westerhaus connected with Matt Roncaioli for 20-yard touchdown pass, giving the Bulldogs a 21-15 lead at the half.
The Red Flash defensive unit stepped up its play in the second half, shutting out the Bulldogs in the third and allowing just one score in the fourth. Thiel redeemed himself in the third quarter by drilling a 46-yard field goal with 9:08 left in the third. On St. Francis' next possession Khairi Dickson plunged 2 yards for a touchdown, finishing a six-play, 51-yard drive. Alexander scored his second touchdown of the game, this one a 42-yard pass from Kelly coming just over a minute into the fourth quarter. All of a sudden, the Red Flash led by 11.
The Red Flash sealed the victory when Mike Dixon returned an interception of Westerhaus 58 yards to paydirt. St. Francis' defense allowed a late touchdown by Jordan Brown to complete the scoring.
"The defense played very physical," Villarrial said.
The Red Flash rushed the ball 58 times for 339 yards. Dickson, a true freshman, shined in replacing Kyle Harbridge, who was lost this past week for the season with a knee injury, leading the way with 148 yards on 21 carries, while Kelly added 144 yards on 18 carries. Dickson could not wipe the smile off his face talking about the win and his performance.
"Coach said he wasn't going to hold anything back," Dickson said. "I got the chance to play, but I have to give props to my offensive line. They paved the way for me."
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Bryant14 7 0 7-28
St. Francis7 8 10 14-39
StF-Alexander 23 run (Thiel kick), 11:43.
Brnt-Woodson 95 fumble return (Kozlowski kick), 8:58.
Brnt-Harris 32 pass from Westerhaus (Kozlowski kick), 2:36.
StF-Wallace 4 pass from Kelly (kick blocked), 10:26.
StF-Neal Safety, 8:46.
Brnt-Roncaioli 20 pass from Westerhaus (Kozlowski kick), 5:15.
StF-FG Thiel 46, 9:08.
StF-Dickson 2 run (Thiel kick), 3:42.
StF-Alexander 42 pass from Kelly (Thiel kick), 13:57.
StF-Dennis 58 interception return (Thiel kick), 9:08.
Brnt-J.Brown 3 run (O'Connor kick), 7:20.
RUSHING-Bryant, J.Brown 24-125, Perry 5-25, McCray 1-3, Westerhaus 5-(minus 9). St. Francis, Dickson 21-148, Kelly 18-138, Wade 12-46, Alexander 5-20, Team 2-(minus 13).
PASSING-Bryant, Westerhaus 10-24-3-128, Team 0-1-0-0. St. Francis, Kelly 9-17-1-106, Alexander 1-1-0-30.
RECEIVING-Bryant, Roncaioli 2-44, Perry 2-23, McCray 2-17, Harris 1-32, J.Johnson 1-9, Ward 1-7, J.Brown 1-(minus 4). St. Francis, Alexander 3-62, Dickson 2-22, Kelly 1-30, Parker 1-7, Conley 1-6, Williamson 1-5, Wallace 1-4.
Time of Possession23:4636:14