Dec. 17, 2010
Contact: Adam Samson, NAIA Sports Information and Media Services Intern, firstname.lastname@example.org
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Carroll (Mont.), who is searching for its first Football National Championship since 2007, is two rings shy of the all-time record of seven, achieved by Texas A&I. The Fighting Saints may want to take a few pages out of the 2005 and 2007 gameplan to find a successful recipe for defeating Sioux Falls (S.D.) on Saturday. In the four previous meetings between the schools, the Fighting Saints have captured three victories with the most lopsided one coming in 2005. Carroll took home its fourth title and along the way, blanked the Cougars 55-0 in the semifinal matchup played in Helena, Mont.
Based on Carroll and Sioux Falls' performances leading up to the championship, expect a much closer game that will focus on solid defense and trying to stop the big plays.
Despite the Cougars having the No. 1 scoring defense and No. 1 total defense coming into the championship game, Carroll has one accolade that the Cougars don't: an AFCA All-American on the defensive side of the ball. Senior linebacker Thomas Dolan, who was the lone Fighting Saint on the AFCA All-America list, and has been one of the anchors of Carroll's defense.
It doesn't hurt to have that veteran leader at the center of the defense where all the action occurs. Named the Frontier Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Dolan has 72 total tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss and two interceptions in his final campaign.
"Thomas has been the MVP of the conference the past two years and has been our heart and soul," said head coach Mike Van Diest, who is 130-20 in his 12th season at Carroll.
The linebackers coach noted before the start of the season that Dolan was one of the finest outside linebackers he had coached in his 13 years as a linebackers coach.
Nevertheless, a player is only as good as his supporting cast allows. Dolan was joined on the Frontier Conference All-First Team Defense by sophomore linebacker Rhakeem Harris, senior defensive lineman Mason Siddick, sophomore defensive back Brian Strobel and senior defensive back Mike Waldenberg.
The cohesiveness has led to success and enjoyment on the field for head coach Mike Van Diest.
"There are no selfish guys on this team," Van Diest said. "They have really banded together and believe in the brotherhood of football. You don't have a recipe for it, but they just want to come out and play football."
The Cougars' offensive attack will present a different challenge for the Fighting Saint defense. It will take on the task of stopping the lethal combo of quarterback Jon Eastman and wide receiver Jon Ryan. Not many teams have been able to stop the two-headed monster, as AFCA All-American Jon Ryan has racked in 1,300 yards receiving and has hauled in an NAIA-record 24 receiving touchdowns.
"The tandem that they have and the connection they've had over this year is tremendous. We hope we don't give up the big plays," Dolan said.
Enter the seasoned group of defensive backs for the Carroll defense. The Fighting Saints' secondary has relied on juniors Brian Strobel, Tucker Vezina and Ted Morigeau, and the senior leadership of Pat Regan and Mike Waldenberg, to shut down opposing wide outs and tight ends.
"We have been burnt before by [Jon] Ryan," Van Diest said. "That said, we were pretty good in 2008, but I think we are much stronger coming in this year."
In the quarterfinals and semifinals, the Carroll defense remained stout, allowing just one touchdown and 11 points. The Fighting Saints also held both opponents under 300 yards of total offense, giving up 212 yards to Marian (Ind.) and 233 to Saint Xavier (Ill.).
In the 27-5 win over SXU, Carroll only allowed 195 yards passing to a Cougar squad that was ranked No. 1 in the NAIA through the air, averaging 350 yards per game, accumulating 55 passing touchdowns and nearly 5,000 passing yards.
Dolan realizes Saturday's test is different than any other game this year.
"Our defensive backs are in for a task and as an outside linebacker, I'm going to be lining up on Jon Ryan," Dolan said. "We need to make sure that we're able to adjust to the new wrinkles and hiccups that Sioux Falls brings at us."
It's safe to say that Carroll's third-ranked scoring defense (14.3 ppg) and sixth-ranked total defense (265.9 ypg) will be bringing the pressure to Eastman and the Cougar attack, which amassed 49 passing touchdowns a 66.5 completion percentage and was only picked off six times.