St. Francis football

St. Francis head coach Chris Villarrial walks the sideline during a Sept. 13, 2018, game against Richmond in Loretto.

After coming back in Week 1 of the 2019 season, St. Francis moves forward to take on one of the premier teams in the nation. The comeback game also acted as revenge against Lehigh and saw a last minute touchdown pass from quarterback Jason Brown to give the Red Flash the lead for good, as they held on 14-13.

In 2018, the Red Flash had plenty of close calls, and a lot of those games ended with a loss. Five of the seven losses in 2018 saw the Red Flash hold the lead in the second half. But 2019 has a different feel to it, even if it is just one week.

“We preached ‘finish’ everyday in the spring and throughout the summer,” Brown said. “Once we put the last touchdown on the board, we knew we would hold the win because of our confidence in the defense.”

Coach Chris Villarrial also chimed in on how this first victory can help spring eternal hope into the team.

“Hopefully it turns our mindset around,” Villarrial said. “We always tell these guys ‘believe’ and to ‘believe in each other.’ So hopefully they see this now and that they can continue it.”

Brown had a fantastic debut game as a starter for St. Francis, passing for 293 yards and two scores. The 293 passing yards were the most in nearly two years.

“I had a lot of nerves going in,” Brown said. “It was my first start in nearly two and a half years. It was everything that I have been preparing for.”

The offense for St. Francis had an up-and-down afternoon against Lehigh. 

Its first drive ended in a lost fumble and the second drive ended with a missed field goal. But the second half saw lengthy drives and a 75-yard touchdown toss from Brown to E.J. Jenkins.

But start No. 2 has a whole different level of competition. Now comes the

No. 2 team in the Football Championship Series (FCS), James Madison.

The two teams have met three times, with James Madison leading the all-time series 3-0, and the last victory coming in 2014. The Dukes were tied with West Virginia going into the fourth quarter in Week 1, only to fall by a single score. Villarrial knows there is a big task awaiting his team when it travels down I-81 on Saturday.

“They’re No. 2 in the country for a reason,” Villarrial said. “They have great players and a complete team there … I’m excited though, I want to see where we are at individually and as a team.”

The Dukes, led by one-time Pitt quarterback Ben DiNucci, are looking for their first win of the season, and are looking to open their home schedule with a victory. DiNucci is a dual-threat quarterback, something the Red Flash defense will have to be wary about. 

“We have to be fundamentally sound,” Villarrial said. 

“He’s (DiNucci) an option guy, he’s a scrambler and he can hurt you with his legs as much as his arm.”

Last year, DiNucci led the Dukes with nine rushing touchdowns while also throwing for over 2,200 yards with a completion percentage of 68.3%, which was third in the FCS. In the opener, he was held to just 156 yards passing on 13 of 20 passing and was second on the team with 36 rushing yards. 

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