No. 5 Marian (Ind.) claimed its first-ever national crown by winning the 57th annual Russell Athletic-NAIA Football National Championship in overtime, 30-27, over No. 3 Morningside (Iowa) Thursday night at Barron Stadium in Rome, Ga. The Knights, who were playing in their first-ever national title game, outscored Morningside 20-7 over the final 15 minutes and overtime period en route to the victory.
"We have guys who don't quit," said Marian head coach Ted Karras, Jr. "They're true believers, and a lot of them were pioneers. We only started football literally six years ago. We recruit guys who are hungry - hungry to play and hungry to get their degree - who have a never-say-die attitude. These are quality guys, who get their business done - on and off the field.
Marian's placekicker Mike Josifovski, who sent the Knights to the championship contest with a 51-yard game-winning field goal in the semifinals on Dec. 3 against Missouri Valley, again played hero by converting a 35-yard field goal attempt as time expired to send the contest into the first overtime period in the 57-year history of the national championship. The Knight defense held strong in Morningside's overtime opportunity, setting up Josifovski for another game-winning attempt. He again did not disappoint, splitting the uprights on a 26-yard game-winning field goal. Josifovski was named Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game for his performance.
The Morningside offense sized control early, marching 70 yards on its opening possession to take a 7-0 lead at the 10:25 mark of the first quarter. The drive was capped by a Fred Jones 10-yard touchdown run, his first of two scores on the evening.
Marian (12-1) capitalized on a Mustang turnover to tie the score 7-7. However, Morningside responded with its second 70-yard scoring drive of the first quarter when Joel Nixon found Joel McCabe on a six-yard touchdown pass.
Josifovski nailed a 36-yard field goal with 3:55 left in the first half to make it a 14-10 Mustang advantage at the break.
Morningside (13-1) again drew first blood with its third 70-plus drive of the contest to open the second half scoring. Jones, who ran for more than100 yards for the first time this season, tallied his second touchdown of the night on a 1-yard dive. After David Galloway missed the PAT, Morningside held a 20-10 advantage.
Marian pulled within three, 20-17, two minutes later when Tevin Lake found the end zone for the second time on a 4-yard run with 7:33 left in regulation. That score capped the Knight's longest drive of the game - 88 yards on 11 plays.
The Knights took their first lead of the contest with 2:46 remaining, 24-20, when Adam Wiese tossed his only touchdown pass of the evening on a 61-yard strike to Nathan Jones. It was Wiese's 29th touchdown pass of the season and 52nd of his career.
Faced with a fourth-and-15 on its own 44 yard-line, the game began to look in doubt for the Mustangs. However, Nixon, who completed 22-of-39 passes for 228 yards, found Kyle Schuck with a 35-yard pass to give Morningside a first down with the ball on the Marian 21. Morningside, aided by a Knight pass interference penalty, scored two plays later when Nixon connect with a wide open Shuck in the end zone. The touchdown gave the Mustang's a 27-24 lead with a 1:04 remaining, which proved not enough to withstand Marian's late-game heroics.
Wiese paced the Marian offense with 242 yards of total offense, including 223 through the air. Lake, who notched his ninth 100-yard performance of the season, finished with 104 yards and two touchdowns on 23 attempts.
Defensively, five Knights finished the game with double-digit tackles, including John Keever's game-high 18 stops. Robert Palmer was named Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game after positing 13 tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one interception and one forced fumble.
2012 Russell Athletic-NAIA Football National Championship Awards
Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game: Mike Josifovski, Marian (Ind.)
Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game: Robert Palmer, Marian (Ind.)
Photo by Nick Buth, Sioux City