FORT WAYNE — Turnovers kept Saint Francis from finding the end zone early in its season opener Thursday against first-year program Missouri Baptist.
But the funk didn’t last long as the Cougars, ranked No. 6 in the NAIA, got it going and rolled past the Spartans 42-10 at Bishop D’Arcy Stadium.
Saint Francis lost two fumbles in the first quarter and didn’t get its first touchdown until three minutes were left in the quarter, but the Cougars scored 28 points in the second to lead 35-3 at halftime.
“You are going to get that early in the first part of the game,” Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley said. “It was just fundamental things. I wanted to see them pick it up and fight through, and they did.”
There was reason to have confidence considering the opponent. Missouri Baptist (0-2) lost its season opener last week 77-0 against Southeast Missouri.
“We know we were moving the ball, and all we had to do was take care of the ball, and we would find the end zone eventually,” freshman quarterback Nick Ferrer said.
The opener for the Cougars was the program’s first-ever Thursday game. It was also the beginning of a program-first 11-game regular season.
“There were some first-game jitters, just as anything with the nerves,” senior quarterback Wesley Hunsucker said. “It was a lot of fun being out there with the guys and being able to compete against someone else besides our own guys. You can’t beat that.”
The large margin gave Saint Francis the opportunity to get a lot of players into the game.
“We have a lot of young kids, and we have on our list about 75 of them and most of them played tonight,” Donley said. “We just wanted to give everybody a shot. We are talented, and we know we are young, but not much experience yet.”
The Cougars had 318 rushing yards and 239 passing yards. Running back Antoin Campbell made his return after an injury ended his season early last year. The senior ran for 96 yards on only 11 carries and scored a touchdown.
“It was pretty awesome,” Hunsucker said of Campbell’s return. “He had a (45-yard run), and I was sitting back thinking it’s nice to have him back. I told him in the locker room at halftime, ‘Sorry I couldn’t give you a block, but I was too busy watching you.’ ”
The three Saint Francis quarterbacks had quite a first half.
Hunsucker was 11 of 20 for 133 yards, sophomore Bradley Jarzab ran for the Cougars’ first touchdown and Ferrer threw for 99 yards and two touchdown passes, to Cam Smith and Akiem Kelsaw.
“We all did a pretty good job tonight,” Ferrer said of the three QBs. “Wes played like a fifth-year senior, and Jarzab made some plays with his legs. It was a pretty good mix tonight.”
For Missouri Baptist, the touchdown and field goal were the first points ever in the program’s history.
J.P. Lowery ran for 117 yards and the score for the Spartans.