BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI
Special to the Sun-Times
Southern Oregon senior quarterback Austin Dodge leads NAIA passers in completions and yardage for the third year in a row. St. Xavier sophomore John Rhode has come into his own this season and ranks fourth in completions and third in yards.
So when No. 3 St. Xavier (10-2) hosts the No. 8 Raiders (11-2) Saturday, in an NAIA semifinal, it’s only natural to expect a shootout.
“People on the outside probably think this is going to be a pass-happy game where both teams throw the ball 60 or 70 times, but the reality is both of us run the ball pretty effectively, too,” said Cougars coach Mike Feminis, whose team reached the semifinals by beating No. 6 Lindsey Wilson 30-17.
Southern Oregon is averaging 184 yards rushing compared to St. Xavier’s 163. But for both teams, it’s the passing game that puts the fear in opposing defenses.
“From a defensive standpoint, they present the biggest challenge we’ve had all year, and maybe in a few years,” Feminis said. “Their quarterback has set just about every NAIA passing record there is. You watch him play; he looks like Dan Marino. He has a cannon of an arm, a quick release, four outstanding receivers to throw to, and their offensive line goes 300 across the board. And they have two good running backs they rotate in.
“Other than that, I think they’ll be easy to stop.”
Dodge has completed 324 of 491 passes for 4,717 yards and 44 touchdowns, and he entered the season with 11.643 passing yards and 102 career touchdown passes.
Rhode, meanwhile, has completed 250 of 420 passes for 3,301 yards and 28 touchdowns while also running for 203 yards and six touchdowns.
“John Rhode is playing at a very high level,” Feminis said. “He’s making great decisions. I’d like to think we have some weapons, too.”
Wheaton falls short
CCIW champion Wheaton (11-1) had its NCAA Division III playoff run end Saturday with a 14-12 loss to visiting John Carroll. Adam Puknaitis, a junior, scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter to bring the Thunder to within one at 7-6, but the conversion kick was blocked. In the third quarter, Johnny Peltz threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to fellow sophomore Zach Lindquist to make it 14-12, but a two-point attempt failed.
Wheaton tied a school record for victories set in 2008.
Soccer final four
In its eighth and final season under retiring coach Mike Giuliano, Wheaton (21-3) is on its way to the NCAA Division III final four. The Thunder, who beat Wartburg 5-0 and Trinity of Texas 2-1 in sectional play Nov. 21-22, travel to Kansas City, Missouri, to meet Oneonta in a semifinal Friday. The winner will take on Tufts or Ohio Wesleyan.
Giuliano is leaving to take a teaching and coaching position at Greater Atlanta Christian School in Norcross, Georgia. He’ll be replaced by former Wheaton player Jake DeClute, who has both pro and college coaching experience.