[Football]: 0-1. That’s the record the Fighting Saints have sat at after the first week of the season for the past 8 years. The last time they won their first game of the season? 2014: a 41-10 dismantling of Olivet Nazarene.
Current Head Coach Joe Curry took the reins in 2012 coming off of Mike Uremovich’s 10-3 farewell season in 2011. Since then, Curry’s teams are 3-8 in opening games (with two of those wins coming against Olivet). This year’s opener is no cake walk either.
Sam Tumilty drops back last season against Saint Francis (Ind.). Photo courtesy of Jaclyn Duske and USF Athletics
The Saints welcome the Warriors of Waldorf University, a team that went 7-3 a year ago, including a 5-3 showing in the Heart of America Conference. They’ve got a leg up on the Saints, having already played a game this season, defeating Briar Cliff (IA) 35-20 last Saturday.
The game promises to be a good one, so as you sit on your hands and try to make time pass until Saturday’s 1 P.M. kickoff, here’s everything you should know prior to the Saints’ first battle of the year.
Continuity on offense
Junior Sam Tumilty returns for his third year at the helm of the offense, coming off of a season in which he ran for nearly 1100 yards, and passed for another 1250. Tumilty’s uncanny play extending ability, and his knack for finding his way out of trouble was good enough to get him his second consecutive Mid States Football Association Midwest League Offensive Player of the Year. Last year, Tumilty had only four receivers participate in all 10 contests, and as a result, he had to spread the ball around. The Saints had 6 different receivers with over 100 yards through the air, but had no one over 300, as then sophomore, now junior, Dezzion Jordan racked up 291 yards in 10 games.
Speaking of Jordan, he’s back too. The 6 foot 4 inch wide receiver out of Harlem High School is back for his third year. Over his career, he has just 306 yards, 291 of which came just a year ago. He is likely to be a top target of Tumilty’s again this season, and has the potential to be a nightmare matchup on the outside for opposing secondaries given his jump ball ability. Look for Jordan and Tumilty to rekindle their connection early this week.
Running the football is the staple of any good offense (especially in the landscape of Chicago football). Tumilty was the leading rusher a year ago for this squad, but there are some friendly faces returning to the Saints backfield. Among them is the second leading rusher last season, senior Keenan Hailey. Hailey, a local product from Joliet Catholic, notched his career highs in carries, yards, and touchdowns a season ago. Hailey’s 5 foot 11 inch, 195 pound frame is one he’s not afraid to throw around, especially in the red zone, an area the Saints excelled in last year, scoring on 32 of their 40 trips.
Offense wins games, defense wins championships
Graduate student Micheal Johnson returns to the gridiron for his fifth year in the program. In his time at St. Francis, Johnson has 142 tackles (19.5 for loss) and 8.5 sacks, including his career-high 5 last season. His physical presence has stifled opponents’ run games the past two seasons. However, Johnson has struggled with injuries his last two seasons. Despite that, Johnson played through the pain, appearing in all 10 games for the Saints a year ago.
While Johnson patrols the trenches, Scott Tumilty patrols the secondary. The graduate student is entering his fifth season with the Saints after transferring from Augustana. Over that time, Scott has accrued 200 tackles, six interceptions and 15 pass breakups. These numbers don’t even begin to describe Scott’s impact on special teams, where he had 557 kick return yards last season alone to go along with a touchdown. Scott and Sam both share some undeniable speed, but Scott’s acceleration may be up there with some of the best in the nation. If Waldorf is smart, they’ll give him the Devin Hester treatment. In other words, kick it to literally anyone else on the field.
Alongside Scott is Jalen Cooper, another fifth year senior looking to go out on a high note. Last season, Cooper had 2 picks (7 for his career). Cooper got his career highs in both solo and assisted tackles during the 2022 campaign, and will look to pick up right where he left off.
It’s a family affair
Among the freshman class this year for the Saints is Joe Tumilty, brother to (you guessed it) Scott and Sam. Joe, while not the tallest wide receiver in the world, fits perfectly into a slot role. That’s where he excelled in high school at Willowbrook (the same school his two older brothers attended). Joe’s athletic ability opens up some interesting opportunities for the Saints’ offense. I saw this first hand two years ago while calling a playoff game between Willowbrook and Moline. Joe took a handoff on a jet sweep, and proceeded to throw a dot to Nick Mabutas (yes, the very same Mabutas that now plays for your Fighting Saints) for a 50+ yard touchdown.
And, yes. I know I butchered Mabutas’ name in the clip. Happens to the best of us.
Warriors live and die in the trenches
Waldorf was less than impressive through the air a week ago. Senior quarterback Jordan Cooper was just 14 of 24 for 121 yards. He threw two interceptions and a touchdown. The Warriors did find success, however, on the ground with junior Jatoviay Hill, who ran for 183 yards on just 15 attempts. He even busted an impressive 57 yard run on the first play of Waldorf’s second drive of the game, one of his two touchdowns on the day.
Hill wasn’t the only one getting in on the rushing attack. Jordan Cooper, a dual threat quarterback in his own right, tucked it 10 times last weekend, scampering for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The ability of the front seven to contain Jordan could very well be the determining factor in this early season test.
Waldorf certainly won’t be a cake walk, just like all of the other opening day matchups for the Saints over the past eight years. However, this year feels different. I believe the Saints will be able to shake off any rust quickly, and the defense will be too much for Jordan Cooper and the Warriors to handle down the stretch. It’ll be a close one, but the Saints come out on top Saturday 24-20.
How to follow the action
If you can’t make it to Joliet Memorial Stadium for kickoff, there are still plenty of options to follow along. You can follow the live stat feed here, or you can watch the stream courtesy of the USF Sports Network here. New to USF campus media this year is Sports Saturday. You can tune in to the game live on WCSF 88.7 FM if you’re in the immediate Joliet area, or you can stream it here. Part of the coverage is an hour long pregame show, to go along with a halftime and postgame produced exclusively for those listening to their broadcast by St. Francis students.