This article can be found in the Winter 2017 edition of the Alumni Magazine.

March 9, 2017

University of Saint Francis football coach Kevin Donley had walked off a football field with a win 301 times. That’s a lot of winning strolls.

He was long overdue for a ride.

After Donley’s 302nd win, senior defensive tackle Drake DeMuyt and sophomore defensive tackle Eric Hemmelgarn lifted the coach onto their shoulders and carried him off with the University of Saint Francis’ first NAIA football national championship.

“I’ve gotten the water bucket before, but never been toted off the field like that,” Donley said. “I had about 600 pounds of ground round under me, so I felt pretty safe.”

Donley’s postgame escort was one of many memorable moments in the most memorable season in USF’s 19 years of football.

Donley surpassed 300 wins, a rare milestone for a college coach and the most in NAIA history, and his players set or extended 17 school records. The highlight of the season, of course, came with the Cougars’ 38-17 win over Baker in the NAIA national championship game on Dec. 17 in Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla.

The overflowing joy of the win was shared by those who have played and coached for the Cougars, as well as students and supporters who have cheered them on during two decades of gridiron excellence.

Donley’s post-game ride spoke volumes about the personal connections involved.

“I think that just shows the feeling between the players and the coaches here,” Donley said. “It’s not the norm, I don’t believe. It’s a special thing.”

It was a great feeling to hold on to that red (national championship) banner. That’s all we wanted to do, and we were able to do that. – Seth Coate

Donley directed the Cougars to a 13-1 record, overseeing a high-powered offense led by junior quarterback Nick Ferrer, senior wide receiver Seth Coate, sophomore running back Justin Green and a tremendous offensive line. USF’s defense, meanwhile, set a tone of toughness and tenacity behind the leadership of senior defensive end Lucas Sparks, who was named the Mid-States Football Association Mideast League Defensive Player of the Year.

The Ferrer-to-Coate connection proved to be one of the best in college football, capped by an incredible national championship performance. Ferrer set several University of Saint Francis records including passing yards (4,046) and touchdowns (51). He also tied the record for touchdowns in a single game (six). Coate set the mark for receiving yards in a season (1,693), touchdown receptions (25) and consecutive games with a touchdown reception (27), and he tied the record for points scored (150). Ferrer and Coate connected on three touchdown passes in the national title game. Coate caught nine passes for 180 yards and was named the Offensive Player of the Game. Sparks had 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery and was named the Defensive Player of the Game.

“It was a great feeling to hold on to that red (national championship) banner,” Coate said. “That’s all we wanted to do, and we were able to do that.”

Coate, the son of USF assistant head coach Doug Coate, is now training to compete for an NFL shot. Seth was six years old when he first met Donley. Little did he know their relationship would culminate in the greatest season in Cougar football history. “

This is such a family-like atmosphere,” Coate said. “I’ve had so many good guys beside me all the way.”

Donley, who teamed with University of Saint Francis President Sister M. Elise Kriss to create the football program in 1998, was named 2016 NAIA National Coach of the Year and signed a five-year contract extension. He pointed to the program’s special atmosphere as the cornerstone of success.

“To show you the football family here, this group of seniors wanted us to make the championship ring available to all former players and supporters,” Donley said. “That ring will have a different side panel than the players’ rings, but it’s a beautiful ring.”

A beautiful ring is indeed fitting for the most beautiful USF football season.