LORETTO — St. Francis University football fans finally got to see what all the buzz about Makai Jackson was about, and, on a play early in the second quarter, the 6-foot, 190-pound freshman wide receiver showed up.
The routine pass down the middle that Jackson turned into a 29-yard touchdown highlighted St. Francis’ 19-point flurry to start the game as the Red Flash — playing the first of three home games this season — rose above .500 with a 39-13 Northeast Conference win over visiting Central Connecticut State on a rainy DeGol field Saturday afternoon.
“It’s a good stepping stone to where we are and what we still have to face,” redshirt second-year Red Flash wide receiver Dawson Snyder said after making his home debut as a starter in front of about 30 friends and family from the county of Somerset.
St. Francis pulled off a four-game losing skid against the Blue Devils. The Red Flash are on their first three-game winning streak since 2016.
“We needed this. We needed it,” St. Francis coach Chris Villarrial said. “I think it’s a testament to the coaching staff and the leadership. Last year we humbled ourselves and the guys didn’t like it, and they fight. The leadership has been great.
The Red Flash (3-2, 2-0 NEC) led 5-0 in the first minute of the second quarter when Cole Doyle found Jackson on a seemingly innocent crossover pattern in second and 12. Jackson, however, with malicious intent , broke a tackle at sticks to convert the first down and went on.
Jackson then skated past the rest of the Central Connecticut State secondary and stabbed in the end zone for his fifth touchdown of the year.
“See, I thought I was going to get leveled,” Jackson said. “I thought someone was going to let me go, but I stayed up.”
Besides the electrifying touchdown, it was a modest day for true freshman at Harry S. Truman High School just outside Philadelphia: four receptions and a 6-yard run. For the season, Jackson had 28 receptions and won three NEC Rookie of the Week awards.
The Red Flash was his only scholarship offer, so the young man whose motto is “stick to the plan” didn’t have high expectations for this fall.
“I didn’t expect to see a lot of the peloton, maybe get a red shirt and develop more. I didn’t expect so much. Just keep your head down, cringe, and keep the faith,” Jackson said.
Another true Red Flash freshman, Elijah Sarratt, was also successful, catching four passes for 50 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown from Doyle in the fourth quarter. He also returned a free kick from 33 yards.
Berlin’s Snyder, who went to Shanksville-Stonycreek and played school football at Shade, had a memorable first start at home, setting up Alex Schmoke’s 34-yard field goal that opened the scoring 4:03 in the contest after coming back and jumping for a 28-yard catch from Justin Sliwoski.
“It felt good. I wish the weather was a little nicer, but it was a great atmosphere. We stuck to the game plan and did everything (we needed),” Snyder said.
The St. Francis defense turned in its second strong performance in three weeks by holding Central Connecticut State (0-5, 0-2 NEC) to an offensive touchdown. The Red Flash offered three takeaways, limiting the Blue Devils to 266 yards.
“We’re getting better every week,” said defensive end Donnell Brown, who had two tackles for a loss and also recorded two quarterback rushes. “It’s a new era.
“We have to stick to our principles. You can’t get too high. I know winning is good, but losing is not good. We have to keep pushing that pedal.
The most impressive drive of the first half came midway through the second quarter and put the Red Flash up 19-0, rushing for 74 yards in eight plays after holding Central Connecticut State to a standstill.
It started when Damon Horton found a seam on a fast pass from Sliwoski and brought it 47 yards from the Central Connecticut State 27.
Runs from Jordan Jackson, Sarratt and Horton moved him to the 1. Then Lovell Armstead remained intact on the right end with 5:15 left in the second quarter.
After Schmoke’s basket, the team’s punts were traded before the Red Flash was on the board again when the snap of 27 flew over Connecticut Central State punter Aidan Clark’s head and through the end zone for a safety that made it 5-0.
Central Connecticut State had a chance to get back into the game late in the first half after Luquay Washington returned an interception from Doyle 47 yards for a touchdown and the Blue Devils held St. Francis three times . Travell Cook, however, mitigated the damage with a spectacular diving interception.