Four of the NAIA's top five teams in the final regular-season NAIA Football Coaches' Top 25 Poll continue their quest for a national championship on Saturday in the semifinal round of the 2012 NAIA Football Championship Series (FCS). Second-ranked Missouri Valley and No. 3 Morningside (Iowa) headline the quartet as the only remaining undefeated teams, while defending national champion Saint Xavier (Ill.) and Marian (Ind.) round out the group.
Saturday's winners will advance to the 57th annual Russell Athletic-NAIA Football Championship on Dec. 13. For the fifth-consecutive season, the game will kickoff at Barron Stadium in Rome, Ga. The event, which is hosted by the Rome-Floyd County Convention and Visitors Bureau, will be televised live and in high definition on CBS Sports Television with kickoff scheduled for 6:30 p.m. EST.
Since 2000, semifinal home teams are 20-4. Only two visiting schools have won in the semifinals since 2004, including Saint Xavier's 30-27 victory at Marian a year ago. Former NAIA member Lindenwood (Mo.), who defeated Carroll (Mont.) in 2009, was the other. Through the quarterfinals this season, the hosts are 10-2.
Saint Xavier is appearing in its fourth-straight FCS, while Marian is making its second-straight trip into the round of four. The Cougars are 1-3 in four previous appearances with their lone victory coming last season against Marian.
Outside of Saint Xavier, Missouri Valley has the most FCS semifinal experience, since 2000, with two previous trips. However, the Vikings are 0-2 in those appearances with both losses coming against former NAIA member Sioux Falls (S.D.) in 2006 and 2007.
Morningside last reached the semifinals in 2005, but lost 42-14 against Saint Francis (Ind.).
Both FCS semifinal games will mark the first-ever meeting between the two sides.
For more information on the NAIA Football Championship Series, click here.
2012 NAIA Football Championship Series Semifinal Game Notes
Marian (Ind.) (10-1) at Missouri Valley (12-0)
Gregg-Mitchell Field | Marshall, Mo. | 1 p.m. CST
Live Stats | Live Video | Live Audio
• Missouri Valley enters Saturday looking to extend its NAIA-best 12-game win streak, when the Vikings host Marian (Ind.). Missouri Valley reached the semifinals with a 10-7 win against Bethel (Tenn.), while Marian posted a 45-34 win over Mid-States Football Association Mideast Division rival Saint Francis (Ind.). It was the Knights third-straight victory over Saint Francis.
• The Vikings are 0-2 all-time in semifinal appearances since the NAIA went to one division in 1997. Both of Missouri Valley's previous losses came at former NAIA member Sioux Falls (S.D.) in 2006 and 2007.
• A victory on Saturday would place the Vikings in their second all-time national championship game. Missouri Valley's previous trip came in 1974 as a member of Division II.
• Missouri Valley, who finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the final NAIA Football Coaches' Top 25 Poll, is the nation's highest-ranked remaining team in the FCS.
• In the first round against Ottawa (Kan.), the Missouri Valley defense held the Braves to season lows in total offense (228 yards) and rushing offense (50 yards). Additionally, the Vikings held Ottawa's dual-threat quarterback Shane Gimzo to only 183 yards of total offense, 109.6 yards below his season average entering the contest.
• Against Bethel, the Vikings overcame a season-low 259 yards of total offense by forcing three Bethel (Tenn.) turnovers en route to a 10-7 win. Missouri Valley's lone touchdown came with 6:04 remaining in the first quarter when quarterback Bruce Reyes connected with Seth Martinko on a 15-yard touchdown strike. The score would remain 7-0 until the 9:04 mark of the fourth when Fabian Miramontes hit a 13-yard field goal. Bethel would score a late touchdown, but fail to tie the score.
• A key part of Missouri Valley's success this season has been the dominance of the Viking defensive unit, which ranks top 10 nationally in total defense per game (258.5), scoring defense per game (12.6), sacks (41), opponent third down conversion (27.8 percent), opponent fourth down conversion (28.6 percent), pass defense efficiency (94.7) and rushing defense per game (100.3).
• Offensively, Zavier Steward leads the Missouri Valley ground attack with 816 yards on 136 carries and eight touchdowns. However, Steward has rushed for a combined 79 yards in two FCS games, including a near season-low 12-yard effort in the quarterfinals against Bethel. Fellow running back LaNorris Dukes has ran for 618 yards on 124 carries to rank second on the team. Dukes set a season-high with 105 yards and four touchdowns in the first round against Ottawa.
• Reyes and Taylor Beasley have split snaps at quarterback this season. Reyes leads the team with 2,058 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Beasley is second with 689 yards and six scores. Martinko is the squads leading receiver with 668 yards on 30 catches.
• Marian is making its second-straight appearance in the NAIA FCS semifinals. Last season, the Knights fell to eventual national champion Saint Xavier, 30-27.
• Saturday will snap a streak of five-straight home playoff games for Marian. Their last road FCS contest came in 2010 against Ottawa. The Knights won that game 35-20.
• In the first round against Northwestern, Marian improved to 3-0 all-time in FCS first round games with a 42-32 victory. Quarterback Adam Wiese headlined the contest with a 2012 FCS first round-high 473 yards passing and four touchdowns. He also ran for 20 yard en route to a game-high 493 total yards on the afternoon. Wiese's favorite target was Anthony Jones, who recorded seven catches for 151 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown reception to seal the game with 3:48 remaining in the fourth quarter.
• Against Mid-States Football Association Mideast rival Saint Francis (Ind.) in the quarterfinals, the Knights scored 17 unanswered points in the first half to claim a 17-7 lead and outscored the Cougars 28-27 in the second half en route to the 11-point victory. Running back Tevin Lake keyed the Marian offense with 30 carries for 141 yards and three touchdowns. The performance is Lake's seventh 100-plus yard effort of the season and fifth multi-touchdown game.
• Similarly to Missouri Valley, Marian boasts one of the NAIA's top defenses. The Knights are sixth nationally in rushing defense per game (94.0) and 10th in total defense per game (278.1). Marian has allowed only three 100-yard rushers in 11 games this season.
• Lake is the team's leading rusher with 1,372 yards and 16 touchdowns on 256 attempts. He boasts seven 100-yard performances this season, including a season-high 229 yards against Taylor (Ind.) on Oct. 6. In two seasons at Marian, Lake has ran for 2,592 yards and 34 touchdowns.
• Wiese is completing 69.8 percent of his passes for 2,846 yards and 27 touchdowns this season. The Knights have four wide receivers with at least 30 catches and 400 yards this season, led by John Hasty's 43 catches and Anthony Jones' 538 receiving yards.
Saint Xavier (Ill.) (11-1) at Morningside (Iowa) (12-0)
Elwood Olsen Stadium | Sioux City, Iowa | 12 p.m. CST
Live Stats | Live Video | Live Audio
• Morningside (Iowa) - joins Missouri Valley as the only unbeaten teams remaining at 12-0 - will host defending national champion Saint Xavier (Ill.) on Saturday at 12 p.m. Morningside reached the semifinals with a 47-44 overtime victory over Southern Oregon in the quarterfinals, while Saint Xavier downed Cumberlands (Ky.), 35-21.
• Saturday's game will be the first-ever meeting between the two sides.
• Morningside owns a 0-2 all-time record against current members of the Mid-States Football Association Mideast League with both losses coming against Saint Francis (Ind.).
• The Mustangs are winless in one previous trip to the semifinals, falling to Saint Francis, 42-14, in 2005.
• In the first round against Montana Tech, Morningside used a strong performance from quarterback Joel Nixon to win a 40-35 shootout. Nixon earned FCS First Round Offensive Player of the Game honors after passing for 156 yards and running for a season-best 116 yards against the Orediggers.
• The Mustangs found themselves in another shootout with a Frontier Conference opponent, when Morningside hosted Southern Oregon in the quarterfinals. The two teams combined for 1,092 total yards offense, but it was a four-yard touchdown pass that decided the contest. Following a Southern Oregon field goal to open the overtime period, Nixon connected with Joel McCabe on the game-winning four-yard touchdown pass. Nixon posted his second-straight dominant performance with 452 yards of total offense (106 rushing and 346 passing) and five touchdowns (one rushing and four passing).
• Nixon, who had never played a down as a collegiate quarterback prior to this season, keys the Mustang's third-ranked offense (493.0 yards per game). He is the team's leading passer with 3,279 yards and 43 touchdowns in 12 games this season, while also pacing the squad with 738 rushing yards on 132 attempts. Nixon boasts six 300-yard passing performances and three 100-yard rushing games this season.
• McCabe is Nixon's favorite target with 1,131 yards on 73 catches. His 16 touchdowns is second to only fellow wide receiver Kyle Schuck's 17.
• Despite surrendering back-to-back season-highs in points and total yards, Morningside features one of the NAIA's most dominant defenses. The Mustangs rank in the top-15 nationally in the following categories: rush defense per game (63.3), scoring defense per game (11.3), opponent third down conversion (27.7 percent), opponent fourth down conversion (27.6 percent), pass defense efficiency (94.4) and total defense per game (282.1).
• Aaron Roberg leads the defense with 106 tackles (34 solo), while Marcus Smith paces the team with 14 tackles-for-loss and 6.5 sacks.
• Saint Xavier is making its fourth-straight - fifth overall - appearance in the semifinals. The Cougars own a 1-3 all-time record in the round of four with their lone victory coming last season against Marian, 30-27.
• The Cougars are the only remaining team to have won a national championship.
• In the first round against William Penn (Iowa), Saint Xavier showcased a dominant effort on both sides of the ball, posting more than 400 yards of total offense for the third-straight game, while the defense held the NAIA's best running teams (at the time) to a season-low 100 yards on the ground. Quarterback Jimmy Coy highlighted the offense with 336 yards passing and two touchdowns.
• In the quarterfinals, the Cougars improved to 4-0 all-time in the FCS against teams currently playing in the Mid-South Conference with a 35-21 win over Cumberlands (Ky.). Coy again highlighted the offense, completing 21-of-36 passes for 307 yards, but was held without a touchdown pass for the first time this season.
• Coy orchestrates a Saint Xavier offense that ranks in the top 10 in total passing (3,885), pass offense per game (323.8), total offense per game (479.6), scoring offense per game (13.9), first downs per game (24.3) and total scoring offense (429). His 3,274 yards of total offense this season ranks third in the NAIA, while his 278.0 passing yards per game average is sixth. In seven career playoff games, Coy has completed 63.2 percent (151-of-239) of his passes for 1,777 yards and 13 touchdowns. Arguably more important has been Coy's ability to protect the ball in key games, tossing just three interceptions in his FCS career.
• In addition to Coy, the Saint Xavier offense features talented individuals at both running back and wide receiver. Running back Nick Pesek, who posted his fifth 100-yard effort against Cumberlands in the quarterfinals, has rushed for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, including 1,085 yards in 2012. The receiving corps is led by Shane Zackery. Zackery, who was among 15 recipients of the 2012 National Football Foundation's National Scholar-Athlete Award earlier this fall, boasts 72 catches for 1,042 yards and 13 touchdowns. In two playoff games this season, Zackery owns 11 receptions for 161 yards.
• Linebacker Zach Dolph leads a stingy defensive unit with 120 tackles (62 solo) and 19.0 tackles-for-loss. Last week against Cumberlands, Dolph was named the Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game after recording a season-high 15 stops. The performance also broke the Saint Xavier record for tackles in a season, which previous stood at 119.
• As a unit the Cougars are fourth in scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of 13.9 points per game.
• Saint Xavier boasts a 66-21 scoring advantage in this year's playoffs.