LORETTO - Chris Villarrial's third season as head coach of the St. Francis University football team has been a truly memorable one - beating Monmouth on the road for the first time in the program's history, shocking a nationally-ranked Morehead State team and defeating a Joe Walton- coached Robert Morris team in early October.
The crowd that gathered for senior day festivities Saturday was fortunate to witness some more history firsthand. Those in attendance saw the Red Flash beat Sacred Heart, 44-24, and win their fifth game of the season for the first time since the program moved up to the Division I level 20 years ago.
"It's something we had talked about when I took the job, about building a winning program here," Villarrial said.
After a first quarter in which both teams scored on field goals, the Red Flash overwhelmed the Pioneers with 21 second-quarter points, without allowing a score by Sacred Heart. Quarterback John Kelly found Kevin Parker for an 8-yard scoring pass, while Anthony Abeid sprinted 33 yards for a touchdown on the following possession. Just seconds before time expired, Kelly scored on a keeper from 10 yards out.
The third quarter commenced with a seven-play, 32-yard drive that ended with a 23-yard field goal by Thiel. That field goal made him the all-time career field goals record holder, by passing Adam Sciulli, who had 27. He also set the program's career records for points with 198 and PATs with 111.
"He had some struggles early on in his career, but he never gave up," Villarrial said. "Look at what he did today. He's had a great career. It will be tough to replace him."
Following Thiel's record-setting boot, Sacred Heart scored its first touchdown of the game, this one a 2-yard run by Keshaudas Spence. The Red Flash answered right back on its following possession with a touchdown pass from Kelly to Dane Domonkos.
Spence started the fourth quarter with his second touchdown of the game, this one coming on a 48-yard run. St. Francis, once again, did not take long to answer with a touchdown of its own, with Kelly tossing his third touchdown pass of the contest, finding fullback Dan Conley for an eight yarder. Thiel's third field goal of the game with 7:54 remaining in the game upped the Red Flash lead to 44-17. The Colonials added one more meaningless touchdown with 4:29 left.
In addition to his one scoring run and three touchdowns, Kelly ran the ball 29 times for 187 yards, for a healthy 6.4 yard/carry average. Kelly, one of the seniors honored prior to the game, talked about his final time on the field as a collegiate.
"It feels great because the seniors have been through so much together," Kelly said. "We never stopped believing. Hopefully they'll be able to carry this momentum into next season."
Villarrial spoke glowingly about his departing quarterback.
"You don't get anyone tougher," Villarrial said. "He's led us into battles."
The Red Flash finished with an overall record of 5-6 and a 4-4 record in the NEC.
Sacred Heart wrapped up its 2012 campaign with a record of 2-9 overall and a mark of 1-7 in NEC play.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Sacred Heart3 0 7 14-24
St. Francis3 21 10 10-44
StF-FG Thiel 21, 12:05.
SH-FG Frizzell 33, 1:04.
StF-Parker 8 pass from Kelly (Thiel kick), 12:57.
StF-Abeid 35 run (Thiel kick), 7:56.
StF-Kelly 10 run (Thiel kick), :20.
StF-FG Thiel 23, 11:53.
SH-Spence 2 run (Frizzell kick), 7:05.
StF-Domonkos 8 pass from Kelly (Thiel kick), 3:42.
SH-Spence 48 run (Frizzell kick), 14:43.
StF-Conley 8 pass from Kelly (Thiel kick), 10:34.
StF-FG Thiel 31, 7:54.
SH-Dube 13 pass from Wischnowski (Frizzell kick), 4:29.
Time of Possession27:0232:58
RUSHING-Sacred Heart-Spence 21-131, G. Moore 5-15, Ibe 1-(-2). St. Francis- Kelly 29-187, Abeid 11-69, Ingram 10-59, Alexander 1-28, Conley 1-2, Domonkos 1-(minus 1).
PASSING-Sacred Heart-Wischnowski 20-37-1-212. St. Francis-Kelly 6-12-0-58, Abeid 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING-Sacred Heart-Casey 6-70, Dube 4-49, Tate 4-43, Jamiel 2-16, G.Moore 1-12, Goodwin 1-11, Comerford 1-10, Spence 1-1. St. Francis-Alexander 2-25, Conley 2-17, Domonkos 1-8, Parker 1-8.