NAIA Campus Report for September 11, 2004: Jason Dannelly watches MSFA’s Olivet Nazarene and Saint Xavier

At Saint Xavier I had an opportunity to tool around before the game see the players and coaches going through their rituals. One person I was saddened to see would not be participating in any of those rituals was Saint Xavier wide receiver Andy Ricca. Ricca has been hit with bad luck once again. Last season the Cougars started off their season against NWOSU and in the first quarter, Ricca went down with an ACL tear. This season Ricca was back to full strength and ready to get after it against Illinois State . But in the first quarter, Ricca went down again with another tear of his ACL. You can’t help but feel sorry to see such a great athlete go down like this, but there is a silver lining. Ricca is available to get a medical hardship for this injury and play next year if his body and mind will let him. Physically two ACL tears on separate legs are tough to get over, but the mental end of it is just mind boggling.

As for the game, Whitewater was physical. Their running back was a punishing runner. Colin Burns ran the ball 30 times for 224yds in what was probably the best running performance I’ve seen this season. SXU had good size on their defense, but anyone who took Burns on high did not bring him down. Overall the Cougars played tough and made some mistakes that probably cost them a better chance at winning the game. At one point the Cougars were ready to punch it in during the first half, but threw an INT in the end zone to give Whitewater the ball and momentum.

SXU had a good football atmosphere. Being located in Chicago during a pennant race does not help the attendance at the game, but I felt SXU had a good crowd on hand for their home opener. The Alumni Association even had tents and tailgating going on right outside the stadium which I thought was great until the wind started blowing the aroma over the field and making me hungry as heck.

SXU made a couple attempts at the end of the game to get the win, but in the end it was just Whitewater’s day. The staff at SXU was great and I though they accommodated me very well.

Then it was down I-57 to Bourbonnais to watch ONU and Azusa Pacific. I was very surprised when I got to the game to see just how big the crowd was for ONU’s game. It was 4000 plus with standing area’s around the field being pushed to the brim. It was a great atmosphere. Even the rowdy students in the east end zone added to the excitement as they kept chants going through the game. Their enthusiasm rivaled that of the “Carroll Crazies” which I saw during week one.

The one thing I could feel around me at this entire game was a positive atmosphere. APU fans were happy to be there and to be playing, while I think ONU’s fans are just positive people. It was a great family orientated game to be at.

As dumb as this may sound, the band was definitely a highlight for me. I’m not a band person at all, because most the time at this level of football it is poorly constructed and sounds terrible. But when Olivet Nazarene brought their marching band onto their field I was at a loss for words. They looked professional, they sounded professional, and they did a professional job of entertaining the fans. Then during pregame, the President of the College emerged from the band to great the fans. And I don’t mean he came in from behind the band were he was standing. I mean, HE WAS IN THE BAND. Definitely a cool thing for a President of a College to do.

As for the game, Azusa Pacific is good. They are physical and are the type of team that just keeps hitting you in the mouth. Their new defensive scheme worked very well against ONU’s young line, but I will be interested to see in the weeks to come how they do against a bigger faster line.

The most impressive player on the defensive side might have been DT Pedar Moore. This guy looked line a man among boys at times. Moore only had to guess which way ONU was going to run or rollout and he’d be there to stop the play. Moore is the best defensive linemen I’ve seen this season in the NAIA.

ONU’s Billy Lawrence and APU’s Ben Buys both ran the ball well. Lawrence is quicker than I expected, while Buys is exactly what I expected; big back, good speed, physical runner. Overall this was a great game to see, even though ONU fans probably did not like the display they put on the field. One thing I reminded people after the game was “there’s a reason was APU is a top 10 team”.

On the trip home I had to call my wife and have her read me the NAIA scores. It was a good thing I was parked in my motel parking lot when she told me a few. Otherwise I might have driven off the road right into the ditch when I heard a few.

Another great weekend of football. Next week I’ll be in Kansas , so I’ll talk to you later.

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