ROME, Ga. – (Game Stats) As a potential game-tying field goal sailed wide left, Carroll (Mont.) started to celebrate for the sixth time in school history. The No. 2-ranked Fighting Saints brought home the 2010 Russell Athletic-NAIA Football National Championship after a 10-7 victory against No. 1 Sioux Falls (S.D.) from Barron Stadium. In a game that was not decided until the final moments, Sioux Falls drove into field-goal range with less than 10 seconds remaining. The 46-yard attempt by USF’s Braden Wieking missed to tie the score.
Since 2002, Carroll earns its sixth National Championship all under the direction of coach Mike Van Diest. The Fighting Saints improve to 4-1 all-time in the series with Sioux Falls. USF had its 42-game winning streak halted, which had tied an all-time NAIA record. Before today’s loss, the last program to defeat Sioux Falls was Carroll in the 2007 National Championship.
“The score tells it all – it was a great battle,” said Van Diest, whose Fighting Saints are now 6-1 in the National Championship game. “I felt our offensive line really controlled the line of scrimmage and Gary (Wagner) kept the plays alive. We are very excited. We talked about climbing the mountain a long time ago during two-a-day (practices). It was one step at a time and we never wanted to look back. It was a terrific ball game and my hats off to Sioux Falls for their tremendous run.”
With both teams so evenly matched on paper, the game was destined to be a nail-biter.
Carroll, which ranked in the top-10 in rushing offense, was going up against a Sioux Falls defense to yield just 87 yards on the ground per contest. Behind the running tandem of seniors John Camino and Gary Wagner, Carroll rolled up 174 rushing yards. Camino finished with 81 yards on 24 carries, while the legs of quarterback Wagner netted 75 with one score.
In the game’s opening drive, Carroll marched down to the 41-yard line of Sioux Falls and looked like they would score the first points. But, sophomore Eric Anderson sacked Wagner and forced the Fighting Saints to punt. Carroll would get more first-half scoring opportunities, though.
After the Carroll defense forced a three-and-out, the Fighting Saints again drove the ball into USF territory. Carroll converted a fourth-down play during the drive and ended up with a short field goal attempt. But, sophomore Tom Yaremko hit the right upright from 21 yards out and the game was still scoreless.
Sioux Falls threatened on its next possession as the passing game heated up. Senior quarterback Jon Eastman found junior Alex Anderson and senior Jon Ryan on a couple of pass plays to move the ball near midfield. A holding penalty on Sioux Falls stalled the drive and the Cougars were forced to punt.
As the game remained scoreless in the second quarter, the game was becoming more of a defensive battle. That was until Wagner found a hole in the middle of the USF defense. From his 17-yard line, the Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game broke a tackle and scampered 83 yards for a career-long rushing touchdown. After the PAT, Carroll held a 7-0 lead with 8:47 remaining in the second quarter.
“We had Bubba (Bartlett) and John (Camino) in there and they both did a tremendous job blocking,” said Wagner on his 83-yard score. “Corey Peterson stuck his block and those are the only reasons I ended up scoring. I just tried to run as fast as I could – I’m sure it wasn’t the prettiest form, but I don’t care. I am so excited to be a part of this opportunity. I was in the right place at the right time and the right play was called and we scored a touchdown.”
On the ensuing possession, Sioux Falls went to work offensively. In their best drive of the first half, the Cougars mixed in run and pass and drove 63 yards in 11 plays for the touchdown. Sophomore Jordan Taylor found the end zone from one yard out on a third-down play. With 3:02 showing on the clock, the score was tied at 7-7.
Carroll looked to take a lead heading into the locker room and had a chance to do so. The Fighting Saints drove to the USF 21-yard line, but a Yaremko attempt hit the left upright this time.
The second half was much of the same story, with both defenses making plays when they had to. Carroll moved the ball enough offensively that they won the field-position battle. The Fighting Saints pinned USF deep in its own territory twice in the third quarter. Because of that, the game stayed tied at 7-7 into the fourth frame.
After a third-quarter that saw Carroll move the ball twice into USF territory, the rushing game of the Fighting Saints took over. Starting at its own 41-yard line, Carroll rushed the ball 12 times on a 15-play drive. Camino ate up 25 hard-earned yards on the ground. The result of the lengthy seven-minute drive was a 22-yard field goal from Yaremko, his first in three attempts.
With 7:47 left in the fourth quarter, Carroll held the slimmest of leads at 10-7.
Playing with a sense of urgency, the Sioux Falls’ offense clicked after the Carroll score. Eastman and company drove to the Carroll 31-yard line, before stalling. After three incompletions and a sack, Sioux Falls turned the ball over on downs.
But, Sioux Falls still got another chance after holding Carroll to a three-and-out. After a Carroll punt, Sioux Falls started its drive at its own 37-yard line with :26 left and no timeouts. Eastman found Ryan on two, 10-plus yard passes and Sioux Falls was in business. After a completion to junior Mike Hicks, the Cougars moved to the Carroll 29-yard line. That set up a chance for Wieking to be the hero and send the game to overtime.
Wieking’s kick had plenty of distance from 46-yards out but was a few yards wide left.
Ryan, who was recognized as the 2010 Rawlings-NAIA National Football Player of the Year last night, ended his career with 90 receiving yards on seven catches. Eastman was 18-for-32 for 172 passing yards.
For Carroll, Wagner went 12-for-21 through the air for 107 yards. But, it was his feet that were difference. Bartlett hauled in five catches for 45 yards and junior Matt Ritter posted five receptions for 39 yards. The defensive hero for Carroll was AFCA All-American Thomas Dolan with six total tackles, including 2.0 tackles-for-loss.
With 17 total tackles, Sioux Falls’ Anderson was named the Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game.
Championship Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game: Gary Wagner, Carroll
Championship Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game: Eric Anderson, Sioux Falls
Carroll comes to within one National Championship title of the all-time mark of seven, which is held by Texas A&I… The Fighting Saints win their 36th postseason game, which ties Sioux Falls for the most in NAIA history… The 42-game winning streak for Sioux Falls was the third-longest in any division of collegiate football – Mount Union (Ohio) out of the NCAA Division III posted a 55-game streak during the 2000-03 seasons… Since 2000, the No. 2-ranked team improves to 5-2 in the National Championship game… The No. 1-ranked team falls to 2-4 when playing the No. 2-ranked team, since 2000.