By Alan Grosbach, Manager of Communications and Sports Information
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – (Box Score) Three touchdown receptions by NAIA All-America wide receiver Seth Coate propelled No. 4 Saint Francis (Ind.) to the programs first-ever national title with a 38-17 victory over No. 2 Baker (Kan.) at the 2016 NAIA Football National Championship, presented by Waste Pro. The banner comes 25 years to the day since the Cougar’s Hall of Fame head coach Kevin Donley won his first career title while at Georgetown (Ky.).
“It’d been 25 years since I’ve won one, and I sure as heck don’t want to wait another 25,” said Donley. “The last couple weeks I’ve had people ask me what makes this team so special. It’s unique people that care about each other. They love each other, and they have a passion for the game. There was a tremendous commitment from these guys for the last 11 months to get to this point today.”
Saint Francis, which entered the night 0-3 all-time in the national final, is the fifth champion out of the list six seasons from the Mid-States Football Association. Saint Xavier (Ill.) (2011), Marian (Ind.) (2012, 2015) and Grand View (Iowa) (2013) were the others.
Coate ended the game with nine catches for 180 yards – the most since Marian’s Anthony Jones Jr. went for 234 receiving yards in the 2014 championship – and three touchdowns. With the three scores, the Fort Wayne, Ind., native set the NAIA’s single-season receiving touchdowns record (25). Coate was named the National Championship’s Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game.
Cougar quarterback Nick Ferrer, who threw for only 63 yards in the first half, ended the game with 245 passing yards and three touchdowns – the 10th time he’s thrown for three-or-more scores. He completed 18-of-30 throws and was not intercepted for the eighth-straight contest.
Saint Francis defensive lineman Lucas Sparks was named the Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game. He tallied six tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Sparks also forced and recovered a fumble.
Outside of the game’s opening drive, which resulted in a 25-yard Clarence Clark field goal, Saint Francis controlled the tempo during the game’s opening 30 minutes en route to a 17-3 lead at the break. The Cougars held an 18:46 to 11:14 advantage in time of possession, and a 206-132 lead in total yards in the first half.
Saint Francis lit the scoreboard on its first drive of the game, as quarterback Nick Ferrer ended a seven-play, 56-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown strike to Coate. The score extended Coate’s NAIA record consecutive touchdown streak to 27 games – a standard previously held by Greg Thomas of Clinch Valley (Va.) (23 consecutive).
The Cougars added to their lead late in the first quarter, 10-3, on a season-best 44-yard field goal by Ryan Nix.
The first half scoring ended with Saint Francis’ Justin Green scampering 39 yards to pay dirt to round out the opening stanza’s scoring.
Baker cut the deficit to 17-10 with 6:35 left in the third quarter when Logan Brettell linked up with a diving Damon Nolan for a 13-yard touchdowns strike.
However, Saint Francis responded with a pair of long touchdown passes from Ferrer to Coate on back-to-back possessions to seize complete control of the game, 31-10, with a little over 12 minutes remaining. The first score was a game-high 59-yard scoring strike, followed by a 36-yarder after a Baker punt.
The two teams traded touchdowns over the course of the final four minutes with Baker’s Cornell Brown bursting through the pile for a 1-yard score before P.J. Dean of Saint Francis scampered 28 yards to lead to the final tally.
As a team, Saint Francis recorded 443 total yards, while Baker registered 403 yards.
Brown was arguably the player of the game for Baker, as the junior ran for 103 yards and a touchdown, while also leading the receiving corps with 13 catches for 81 yards. With the performance, Brown ends the year with 1,418 rushing yards and 871 receiving yards. He also accounted for 31 touchdowns.
Brettell, who on Friday was announced as the NAIA’s National Player of the Year, ended the game with 263 yards passing, including the aforementioned touchdown.
With the loss, Baker falls to 14-1 on the season and 0-2 all-time in the national championship. The Wildcats, whose other title game appearance came in 1986, was the only remaining unbeaten team in NAIA football.
2016 NAIA Football National Championship Awards
Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game – Seth Coate, Saint Francis (Ind.) (WR)
Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game – Lucas Sparks, Saint Francis (Ind.) (DL)
Saint Francis (Ind.) Game Notes
• Saint Francis becomes the 48th different NAIA program in the 61-year history to win the national championship.
• The football national championship is the third in Saint Francis school history – the women’s basketball team (NAIA Division II) won the banner in 2014 and the men’s basketball team (NAIA Division II) earned the title in 2010.
• Saint Francis earns its first football national title and moves to 1-3 all-time in the winner-take-all battle. The Cougars competed three-straight years from 2004-06, but came out on the losing end during those years.
• Saint Francis boasts 16 all-time appearances in the FCS and a 27-15 overall record. The FCS win total ranks third all-time, trailing Carroll (Mont.) (42) and former member Westminster (Pa.) (31).
• With a touchdown on their opening drive tonight, the Cougars now have reached the end zone offensively in seven of 14 games this year on its first offensive possession.
• Seth Coate, after a five-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter, now has been on the receiving end of a score in 27-straight contests dating back to end of 2014 season. The mark is a NAIA record.
• Coate added a second receiving touchdown – a 59-yarder in the third quarter – to give him 24 touchdown receptions in 2016. That season total set a new NAIA record, breaking former Saint Francis’ wide receiver Jeremy Dutcher in 2000 – Dutcher went for 23 that season.
• Coate is the first player since 2014 to catch three touchdown receptions, after he found pay dirt from 36 yards out in the fourth quarter. He has now finished with three TDs in three of his four postseason games this year.
• Nick Ferrer went 18-for-30 passing tonight for 245 touchdowns and three touchdowns. He now stands with 51 total touchdowns on the year.
• Ryan Nix nailed a season-long 44-yard field goal in the first quarter. The length was the longest in a NAIA championship game since 2014.
• In the first half, the Cougar defense held Baker to 132 total yards of offense and three first-half points – Baker entered the game ranked No. 3 nationally in scoring (49.9) and No. 3 in total offense per game (546.1).
• Running back Justin Green eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in the first half with 104 yards. He posted his fourth-straight 100-yard contest as he went for just one 100-yarder in one of his first 10 games.
• Saint Francis head coach Kevin Donley is the NAIA active and all-time coaching wins leader with a 302-129-1 record. He is in his 38th year as a head coach and 18th as the leader of the Saint Francis football program.
• Championship Defensive MVP Lucas Sparks finished the campaign ranked in the top 10 in both total sacks (12.5) and tackles for loss (23.0). He posted 1.5 sacks and 2.5 TFLs tonight.
Baker (Kan.) Game Notes
• Logan Brettell completed his first six passes (6-7) of the opening drive to four different receivers, which cumulated in a field goal by Clarence Clark (26 yards).
• Baker was ranked 21st nationally in third-down conversion defense (33.9%). Tonight, Saint Francis went 7-for-16 (44 percent) on 3rd down conversions.
• Baker faced its largest first-quarter deficit of the season (seven points).
• Ranked seventh in the NAIA in sacks against (1.00) – allowed five in Championship game.
• As a team, posted only 132 total yards of offense at halftime and finished with 403 total yards (ranked third in nation with 546.1 ypg)
• Cornell Brown set a season high in receptions (13)… his previous high was 11 against Benedictine (Kan.) on Sept. 24, 2016.
• Cornell Brown notched his 24th rushing touchdown of the year after his one-yard plunge late in the fourth quarter.
• This marked only the second game all year Baker did not have an interception on defense… Eastern Oregon was the other game.
• This was Baker’s first loss of the season and worst loss since 2013.
• Cornell Brown finished the game with 13 receptions for 81 yards and 18 rushes for 103 yards and a touchdown.
• Logan Brettell went 34-for-50 for 263 yards and one touchdown passing. The one touchdown was a season low for Brettell.
• Was 6-for-20 (30 percent) on third downs in the game – was 41.3% on third downs on season.
General Game Notes
• The team to score first has won each of the past 10 championship tilts. The last team to counter that was former member Sioux Falls (S.D.) in 2006 when the Cougars came from behind to defeat Saint Francis, 23-19.
• Saint Francis earned the fifth title in the last six years for the Mid-States Football Association.
• The Cougars led 17-3 at halftime. Five of the last six champions held the lead after 30 minutes.
• Saint Francis sophomore Justin Green rushed for 140 yards on 24 carries, becoming the first player to rush for 100 yards in a championship game since D’Angelo Jordan in a losing effort for Cumberlands (Ky.) in 2013.
• The 44-yard field goal by Saint Francis’ Ryan Nix in the first quarter was just the fourth 40-plus yard field goal in a championship game since 1997.
• With 44 seconds left in the third quarter, Saint Francis’ Nick Ferrer found Seth Coate for a 59-yard touchdown pass for the longest play of the game. The two also connected for the longest pass play of the postseason with a 91-yard pass against Missouri Valley.
• Coate had three touchdown receptions for the third time this postseason. He is just the second player with three touchdown catches in a championship game. His 180 yards on nine catches are the second most in a championship game.
• Baker quarterback Logan Brettell completed 34 passes to six different receivers. With the loss, the NAIA Player of the Year is now 7-7 in the championship game since the award began in 1997.
• The top Wildcat target was Cornell Brown with 13 catches, marking the third straight championship with a receiver making 10 or more receptions. His 13 catches are also a personal season-high.
NAIA National Championship Quotes
Saint Francis (Ind.)
Head Coach Kevin Donley
On winning the championship…
“It’d been 25 years since I’ve won one, and I sure as heck don’t want to wait another 25. It’s a great feeling. The last couple weeks I’ve had people ask me what makes this team so special. It’s unique people that care about each other. They love each other, and they have a passion for the game. There was a tremendous commitment from these guys for the last 11 months to get to this point today.”
On the first half fumble that led to a touchdown…
“I knew when we got the running game going, and it wasn’t as consistent as we would have liked, but that run forced them to do some things on the back end to get another hat in the box to stop the run and we were able to get a couple big plays in the second half from that.”
On matching up on the line…
“We’re in the toughest league in the NAIA. You get through our conference schedule and you get to the postseason, you position yourself to host a round or two, and you feel like you have a pretty good chance. We played their rival in the first round and scored 79, which gave us confidence. We knew Baker was a better football team, but we had confidence. I don’t think anyone doubted we were going to win this game.”
Quarterback Nick Ferrer
On using the deep passing game…
“They started to play run support heavy. They had to make a decision with their safeties and their back end with our running game if they wanted to bring their safeties down or cut those corners for run support on the outside. Once we had a little success with the run game, we decided to go up top and play action them, and used our double moves, and really opened up the game for us.”
Wide Receiver Seth Coates
On the St. Francis defense…
“We went into the half, and (Baker) had three points. They’re supposed to be this big high-powered offense. As an offensive player, I don’t think we were performing to our standard, to what we expected. So, we were in their thanking the defense for their efforts and told them if they get a couple more stops, we promised we’d go score for them. When you have great team play like that, special teams that are solid play by play, it’s hard to lose.”
On using the pass rush to slow down the Baker passing game…
“We knew that we were really good pass rushers all season long. Coming into this game, we had 40 sacks this year, and the school record is 46. That’s something we really prided ourselves on was our ability to rush the passer. Them not really playing anyone like us, we felt we had an advantage and executed our moves.”
Baker Head Coach Mike Grossner…
“The stat sheet looks fairly even, but as you watch that game, we didn’t make enough plays. You have to make plays in big games and you can’t give up the big play in crucial situations, which we did. I thought in the third quarter we came out and got back in the game quickly. We were down one score and didn’t convert on a drive, and they punched it and got up two scores.”
On the Saint Francis Defensive Front…
“I think their front three and four guys got after us. We knew coming in if we could give Logan (Brettell) time to throw the ball down the field, we would have had some good opportunities. Their defensive front dictated to us in the passing game what we were trying to do. We knew going in they were pretty talented up front and that’s where they won the game.”
On quarterback Logan Brettell…
“Fantastic year. He got every possible award on and off the field. You look at the sheet, we threw the ball 50 times, but only had 263 yards. That tells you a lot about where the ball was going. It was going short. That’s the key to the game that we couldn’t get the ball vertical more.”
Defensive Lineman Nick Becker…
On the defensive breakdowns in the back end…
“That’s what they do, that’s their game, that’s what we saw on film. Their running back (Justin Green) hesitates and waits for guys to open up. We prepared for that, we knew what to expect, but coverage sometimes was too wide.”
Running back Cornell Brown…
On leading his hometown team to the championship game…
“It’s awesome. The home town has been supporting me the whole time, which is a good feeling. We had a good season, and it’s good for us to have that respect and support.”