Head coach Chris Villarrail is trying to get his St. Francis team to a place they’ve only been one time in his 12-year tenure with the program: the FCS playoffs. The Red Flash (6-2) haven’t seen the postseason since 2016 but took a big step towards getting back this fall with a decisive win over Sacred Heart on Saturday.
Running back QuaSean Holmes and quarterback Cole Doyle wasted no time setting the tone on the ground for St. Francis. On the very play Holmes burst through the middle for a big 38-yard run and two plays later Doyle did the same down the sideline for a 34-yard score. The PAT missed but before they could even get settled, Sacred Heart found themselves playing from behind.
Big plays were an early theme for St. Francis. On their second drive, Doyle dropped a deep pass to receiver Elijah Sarratt for a 50-yard gain that set up the offense inside the 5-yard line. Doyle then hit Sarratt again for the three-yard score, Sarratt’s fifth of the season. The Red Flash led 13-0 on the road.
While the Red Flash offense was moving the ball at will, on the other side the usually-efficient Malik Grant was having trouble getting anything going. When the first quarter came to a close, the senior running back had just two yards.
The second quarter got off to a similar start. On fourth and goal, Doyle faked a handoff before hitting standout receiver Makai Jackson in the back of the end zone to put St. Francis on top 20-0. The touchdowns was Jackson’s sixth of the season.
After Doyle threaded one more in for a score, another strike to Surratt and when intermission came, the Red Flash continued to pour it on when their special teams recovered a flubbed kickoff. Soon after Jackson brought in his second touchdown and the rout was on. At halftime St. Francis led 34-7 and had outgained Sacred Heart 356 yards to 138.
Sacred Heart picked up a little spark in the third when quarterback Marquez McCray led a 16-play drive that wound up in the end zone. Grant pushed his way in on third down but the Pioneers were still in a 20-point hole.
The Red Flash, however, couldn’t produce anything with their first drive of the second half and had to punt away.
The Pioneers started to gain steam late in the third frame when they perfectly executed a fake punt. Tyreke Brown ran 20 yards to catch the Red Flash defense off-guard and gave the offense a renewed sense of life as the final quarter started.
In the fourth Sacred Heart had to punt for real and gave the ball back to a St. Francis offense who was doing an excellent job of chewing clock. They did so yet again as Holmes and Doyle sliced through the Pioneer defense to knock off three more minutes. Sarratt hauled in his third touchdown of the afternoon to put the nail in the coffin.
Doyle finished his day with 264 passing yards and five touchdowns. Holmes led the way on the ground with 97 yards. They were fantastic on third down, converting six of their eight tries (75%). Sarratt had a career day with seven catches for 121 yards and three scores. The freshman has seven touchdowns in the last eight games.
The Red Flash will finish October unbeaten and have now won six straight. St. Francis, at 5-0 in conference play, sits atop the NEC standings along with Merrimack, a team they’ll see later next month. Next up, though, for St. Francis is a non-conference bout with Georgetown.
On the other side it was a long day for the home team. Grant did have two scores but he was about the only highlight for the Pioneers. The defense gave up well over 500 total yards and the offense only held the ball for just over 23 minutes. Sacred Heart tumbles back down to .500 on the year and is just 2-2 in conference action. It seems very unlikely now that they will be able to repeat as NEC champs. They’ll play at Duquesne next Saturday.