It has been a long time since the St. Francis (Pa.) football team has had this much fun.
The Red Flash have won a championship, they’re in the FCS Playoffs for the first time in school history, and they can do something they haven’t done in 24 years if they handle Wagner in the regular season finale: finish a season with eight wins.
It's been a steady progression under head coach Chris Villarrial, the former Chicago Bear and Buffalo Bill. In 2010 he took over the program and won a single game. Then it was two wins, then three straight seasons of five wins. Then last year's six-win season meant the first winning record in more than two decades.
RELATED: Who deserves to be where when it comes to the FCS playoff bracket?
The baby-step method is working. Last year, Patriot League squad Colgate was the big, early story of the FCS Playoffs, winning two playoff games against CAA opponents and making the national quarterfinals.
Could St. Francis do something similar this year? Time will tell.
For now, the Red Flash are looking to close the regular season out with a bang and find out on Sunday who they’ll face on Nov. 26. And they can enjoy the support of their hometown of Loretto (Pa.) — nestled between Pittsburgh and Altoona in the western half of the state.
Villarrial Named Finalist For Eddie Robinson Award https://t.co/G6hYxcih2v
— The Red Flash (@SFUathletics) November 15, 2016
“It’s been great to see the transformation of the program,” Villarrial told HERO Sports this week. “I’m getting emails from past players who were here in the 1960s and 1970s who are congratulating us and saying they’ll be here for upcoming games to come out and support us. Guys go into the cafeteria at school and now people say ‘hi’ to them.
“Now we have the responsibility to do the right things, because we’re in the spotlight even more.”
St. Francis isn't a historical football power, but that may be on the verge of changing. The program has only reached double digits in wins once—and that was more than 100 years ago when leather helmets were the norm. Prior to this year’s Northeast Conference championship, the Red Flash only had one championship to their name, a title won when the school played Division III football in 1991.
The three losses this year have been to Montana (10 points), Towson (7 points) and Albany (11 points)—and both Montana and Albany come into this weekend on the verge of clinching at-large playoff berths. The Red Flash have held their own against bigger competition—coming into this weekend on a 6-game winning streak. The team has played scrappy defense (No. 10 in the nation in scoring defense at 17.6).
An NEC Title is nice, but we want to be 6-0! SFU looking to become 1st NEC team since 2008 to go undefeated in conference play. #RedFlash pic.twitter.com/9BogfQaTvp
— Red Flash Football (@SFU_Football) November 15, 2016
“I think our game with Montana was a turning point,” standout DB Lorenzo Jerome told HERO Sports. “That’s when we realized that St. Francis can play good football against good opponents, and now look at us, we’re Top 25 in the nation (No. 25 in the HERO Sports media poll).
“It’s a great feeling … but we can’t get cocky because we’re replaceable, basically. Everybody is doing an excellent job.”
Will the Red Flash continue to push to new heights? Only time will tell but there's a whole lot of ascension going on in the town of Loretto.
It’s that time of year, folks.