By Alan Grosbach, Manager of Communications and Sports Information
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - (Complete Schedule) Morningside (Iowa) and Marian (Ind.) punched their ticket to the 57th annual Russell Athletic-NAIA Football National Championship with semifinal victories on Saturday in the NAIA Football Championship Series (FCS). Morningside downed defending national champion Saint Xavier (Ill.), 47-19, in Sioux City, Iowa, while Marian (Ind.) claimed a 20-17 victory over previously unbeaten Missouri Valley on the road.
Both Morningside and Marian will be playing in their first-ever trophy contest, when the two sides square off in Rome, Ga.
Since 2000, the semifinal home teams are 21-5. Marian becomes just the third school since 2004 to win on the road. Through the semifinals this season, the home teams are 11-3.
The Morningside offense, notably quarterback Joel Nixon, proved too much for the defending national champions. Nixon rolled through the Cougar defense, which entered the contest allowing opponents only 13.9 points per game, to the tune of 367 yards of total offense. He completed 22-of-34 pass attempts for 335 yards and four touchdowns, while also running for 32 yards and a score en route to winning his third-straight Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game award.
In Marshall, Mo., the game was not decided until the final seconds. With the score tied at 17-17, Marian defensive back Nathan Toon recorded his second interception of the game with 2:52 remaining. The Knights drove down to the Missouri Valley 34-yard line and called timeout with 1.7 seconds on the clock, providing place-kicker Michael Josifovski an attempt at a fourth field goal of the afternoon. Josifovski, who hit a program-record 54-yard attempt earlier in the game, slit the uprights to send Marian to its first national championship.
The Rome-Floyd County Convention and Visitors Bureau will host the 57th annual Russell Athletic-NAIA Football Championship on Dec. 13. For the fifth-consecutive season, the game will kickoff at Barron Stadium in Rome, Ga. The event will be televised live and in high definition on CBS Sports Television with kickoff scheduled for 6:30 p.m. EST.
2012 NAIA Football Championship Series Quick Facts
• A combined 870 points were scored through 14 games.
• Morningside (Iowa) and Marian (Ind.) advance to their first-ever Russell Athletic-NAIA Football Championship
• After Missouri Valley's loss today, Morningside is the only remaining unbeaten team at 13-0.
• Bethel's (Tenn.) 45-44 first round victory over Georgetown (Ky.) marked the first time the top-ranked team in the final NAIA Football Coaches' Top 25 Poll has fallen in the first round of the FCS, dating back to 1999.
• Seven teams have made at least 10 FCS appearances (including this year): Georgetown (18), Missouri Valley (10), Saint Francis (Ind.) (13), St. Ambrose (Iowa) (12), MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) (10), Baker (Kan.) (12) and Northwestern (Iowa) (16).
• There were nine repeat programs from the 2011 FCS First Round.
• Saint Francis extended its 2012 FCS qualifier-best first round win streak to 11 games with a 22-17 win over Baker. The Cougars last first round loss came in 2001 against Campbellsville (Ky.), 42-21.
• Six-time NAIA national champion and FCS regular Carroll (Mont.) failed to make the field of 16 for the first time since the 1999 season. The Fighting Saints had appeared in eight of the last 10 title games. Dickinson State (N.D.), who has 15 playoff appearances, is the squad with the second-most appearances to miss the cut this season.
• St. Ambrose's 12 appearances were the most amongst the field for a team that has never appeared in the title game. The Fighting Bees, who have never advanced past the quarterfinals, fell in the first round to Southern Oregon.
• There are no playoff newcomers in the field this year. William Penn (Iowa) has the fewest appearances amongst the group with one prior to this season. The Statesmen remain winless in two trips after the loss to Saint Xavier in the first round.
• William Penn made its first trip to the FCS First Round for the first time since 1975 - the longest drought amongst the qualifiers.
• The Mid-States Football Association Mideast Division (MSFAE) and the Heart of America Athletic Conference (HAAC) land the most squads in the 16-team field. The MSFAE is represented by Saint Xavier, Marian and Saint Francis. Competing out of the HAAC is Missouri Valley, MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) and Baker.