NAIA Football National Championship Preview
Photos provided by Dale G Sports and Saint Francis Athletics
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – (ESPN3 | Championship Press Book) No. 2 Baker (Kan.) and No. 4 Saint Francis (Ind.) square off Saturday in the 2016 edition of the NAIA Football National Championship, presented by Waste Pro. Kick off for the 61st annual event is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. EST at Municipal Stadium. The game will be delivered live on ESPN3.
Saint Francis is appearing in the national championship for the fourth time in program history, while Baker is making its second all-time trip to the event. Both the Cougars and Wildcats are searching for their first-ever national title.
The City of Daytona Beach hosts the national championship for the third-straight season. For fan and visitor information, click here.
2016 NAIA Football National Championship Game Notes
• Municipal Stadium houses the event for the third-straight season. Since the inception of NAIA football in 1956, 46 different host venues have welcomed the national championship.
• The 2016 title game is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 17 at 6:05 p.m. EST and will be delivered exclusively on ESPN3. Former NFL offensive lineman Forrest Conoly returns for the fourth-straight season as the games color commentator, while Kristen Bedard is back for a second-consecutive time as the NAIA’s sideline reporter. Drew Fellios, who will be providing play-by-play, is the lone newcomer to the team.
• Saturday’s championship is the 61st in NAIA history. The inaugural contest in 1956, held in Little Rock, Ark., featured former members Montana State and St. Joseph’s (Ind.). The game ended in a 0-0 tie and a shared national championship.
• Seven ties have occurred in the NAIA Football National Championship. The most recent draw was a 21-21 stalemate between Central Washington and Findlay (Ohio) in the 1995 Division II title game.
• The first NAIA Football National Championship game to go into extra time came in 2012. Marian, who was only in its sixth-year of existence, won the game on a Mike Josifovski 26-yard field goal. Josifovski also connected on a 35-yarder as time expired to send the game into overtime. The final score was 30-27.
• There have been 10 national championship shutouts since the event began in 1956. The last shutout came in 2000 when Georgetown (Ky.) blanked Northwestern Oklahoma State, 20-0. It is also the only shutout since the NAIA moved back to one division in 1997.
• Four of the last five national champions have come from the Mid-States Football Association – Saint Xavier (Ill.) (2011), Marian (Ind.) (2012, 2015) and Grand View (Iowa) (2013).
• Since the NAIA returned to one division in 1997, the average margin of victory in the championship game is 10.9 points. Eight games have been decided by seven points-or-less, including four out of the last seven contests.
• Two seasons ago, Southern Oregon (55) and Marian (31) set the national championship single-game record for combined points with 86. The previous standard was set in the 1998 Division I title game when East Central (Okla.) downed Glenville State (W.Va.), 49-35.
• The lower ranked program has won eight of the last 10 titles.
• The 2013 national championship featuring Grand View and Cumberlands (Ky.) was the last time that both participants entered the event seeking a first national title.
• Baker enters the national championship ranked No. 2, while Saint Francis sits at No. 4 in the final regular-season edition of the NAIA Football Coaches Top 25 Poll. No top five team reached the national title game each of the past two seasons.
• Baker and Saint Francis have met once previously in the postseason, as the Cougars downed the Wildcats, 22-17, in the 2012 Football Championship Series First Round.
• The Wildcats are making their first appearance in the title game since 1986 and second in program history. In its first chance at the red banner, Baker fell to Linfield (Ore.), 17-0. The championship was the third of three titles that Linfield would claim during its time in the NAIA.
• Baker, which enters the national championship with a 14-0 record, is the only remaining unbeaten team in NAIA football. The Wildcats downed No. 13 Sterling (Kan.), No. 8 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) and No. 9 Eastern Oregon en route to the championship.
• Saturday marks the first contest away from Liston Stadium for the Wildcats since Oct. 29.
• The 2016 playoffs mark the 15th-time in program history that Baker has appeared in the FCS. The Wildcats are 16-14 all-time in the event and have reached at least the quarterfinals in each of their last three appearances.
• Baker showcases one of the NAIA’s most explosive offenses, ranking among the top five nationally in total pass offense (5,169), pass offense per game (369.2), first downs per game (26.3), total scoring offense (698), total offense per game (546.1) and scoring offense per game (49.9).
• The high-powered nature of the Wildcats’ offensive attack was on display in their semifinal win against Eastern Oregon. Baker scored 21 fourth-quarter points in the game’s final 5:38 to down the Mountaineers, 45-41.
• Heart of America Athletic Conference South Division Offensive Player of the Year Logan Brettell keys the offense for Baker. Brettell, who was also recently named the CoSIDA Academic All-America of the Year, leads the NAIA in total offense (5,092) and total passing (4,810) in his first full season as the club’s starter. The Overland Park, Kan., native has accounted for at least two touchdowns in every game this season, including a career-high seven scores on Sept. 3 against Culver-Stockton (Mo.).
• Brettell owns a 4-1 FCS record as the starting quarterback for the Wildcats. His lone playoff loss came last season against eventual national runner-up Southern Oregon.
• The Wildcats feature a laundry list of talented wide receivers, led by senior Quanzee Johnson and junior Clarence Clark. Johnson ranks second on the club with 76 receptions, while leading the team with 1,062 yards and 14 receiving touchdowns. Clark boasts 69 catches for 1,040 yards and eight touchdowns, respectively. Clark, who was a first team AFCA-NAIA All-America wide receiver in 2015, also serves as the team’s field goal and PAT kicker.
• Running back Cornell Brown is also a key individual to watch on Saturday. The converted wide receiver has run for 1,315 yards and 23 touchdowns this season. The Baldwin City, Kan., native is also a threat in the passing game, leading the team with 82 receptions. Brown leads the NAIA in total scoring with 180 points.
• Defensively, keep an eye on Darrain Winston. The 5-11, 205-pound safety leads the NAIA with 10 interceptions this season.
• Defensive linemen Nick Becker and Josh Kock are both playing extremely well in the FCS. The duo has combined for 49 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks through three playoff games.
• Linebacker Akim Francis leads the team with 107 tackles, including 68 solo stops.
• Saint Francis finds itself playing for a national championship for the fourth time in team history. The Cougars, who are winless all-time in the national final, also made appearances in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
• Saint Francis boasts 16 all-time appearances in the FCS and a 26-15 overall record. The FCS win total ranks third all-time, trailing Carroll (Mont.) (42) and former member Westminster (Pa.) (31).
• The Cougars downed No. 11 Missouri Valley, No. 5 Morningside (Iowa) and No. 3 Reinhardt (Ga.) to reach the championship. In the first round game against the Vikings, Saint Francis scored a new NAIA record 79 points. The previous mark was 76 points by Georgetown (Ky.) in a 2001 FCS game against Campbellsville (Ky.).
• Saint Francis head coach Kevin Donley is the NAIA active and all-time coaching wins leader with a 301-129-1 record. He is in his 38th year as a head coach and 18th as the leader of the Saint Francis football program.
• The Cougars are a balanced club that ranks among the top 10 in numerous offensive and defensive categories, including No. 3 in total pass offense (3,972), No. 4 in rushing defense per game (106.3), No. 6 in scoring defense per game (18.5) and No. 7 in scoring offense per game (43.3).
• Quarterback Nick Ferrer has thrown for a career-high 3,801 yards and 48 touchdowns this season. The Westfield, Ind., native is completing 61.6 percent (249-of-404) of his throws and has only been intercepted nine times in 13 games. Arguably, his best performance of the season came against Missouri Valley in the FCS first round, as the junior threw for a season-high 353 yards and six touchdowns.
• Wide receiver Seth Coate is Ferrer’s top target with 74 catches – 39 more than the next closest Cougar – 1,513 yards and 22 touchdowns. The Fort Wayne, Ind., native’s receiving yards total ranks No. 2 in the NAIA. Coate has caught at least one touchdown pass in 26-straight games, while also garnering 100 receiving yards-or-more in six-consecutive contests.
• An individual that has emerged as a star in this year’s FCS is tailback Justin Green. Green, who during the regular-season posted only one game of 100-plus rushing yards, is averaging 207.3 yards rushing during the playoffs. On Nov. 26 against Morningside, Green raced for 296 yards on 25 carries. The total was only 22 yards shy of tying the current FCS record of 318 rushing yards by Tyler Jack of East Central (Okla.) in 1993.
• Defensive lineman Lucas Sparks keys the defense for Saint Francis. He boasts a team-high 20.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks on the year, while ranking fourth on the team with 91 tackles. Linebacker Piercen Harnish is the team tackle leader with 119 stops (42 solo).
• Eleven teams from the 2015 FCS were back in the field again this year – Baker (Kan.), Dickinson State (N.D.), Doane (Neb.), Grand View (Iowa), Lindsey Wilson (Ky.), Marian, Montana Tech, Morningside (Iowa), Reinhardt (Ga.), Saint Francis (Ind.) and Tabor (Kan.).
• Great Plains Athletic Conference champion Morningside made its 13th-consecutive appearance in the FCS, which is the longest active streak in NAIA football. The Mustangs fell to Saint Francis, 42-35, in the quarterfinals.
• Overall, five programs in this year’s FCS have made 10-or-more appearances: Dickinson State (17), Saint Francis (16), Baker (15), Missouri Valley (13) and Morningside (13).
• Defending national champion and top-ranked Marian had its hopes for a second-straight national title dashed in the quarterfinals by Eastern Oregon, 17-0. The shutout was the first in program history for the Knights.
• The Frontier Conference, Great Plains Athletic Conference, Heart of America Athletic Conference South Division, Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, Mid-South Conference West Division and the Mid-States Football Association Mideast League were all represented by two teams.
• Two conferences – the Central States Football League and Mid-South Conference East Division – failed to have representation in the FCS field due to not having its conference champion ranked among the top 20 in the final regular-season Coaches’ Top 25 Poll – a requirement to qualify for postseason in NAIA football.