ROME, Ga. - (Box Score) No. 5 Marian (Ind.) claimed its first-ever national crown by winning the 57th annual Russell Athletic-NAIA Football National Championship in overtime, 30-27, over No. 3 Morningside (Iowa) Thursday night at Barron Stadium in Rome, Ga. The Knights, who were playing in their first-ever national title game, outscored Morningside 20-7 over the final 15 minutes and overtime period en route to the victory.
"We have guys who don't quit," said Marian head coach Ted Karras, Jr. "They're true believers, and a lot of them were pioneers. We only started football literally six years ago. We recruit guys who are hungry - hungry to play and hungry to get their degree - who have a never-say-die attitude. These are quality guys, who get their business done - on and off the field.
Marian's placekicker Mike Josifovski, who sent the Knights to the championship contest with a 51-yard game-winning field goal in the semifinals on Dec. 3 against Missouri Valley, again played hero by converting a 35-yard field goal attempt as time expired to send the contest into the first overtime period in the 57-year history of the national championship. The Knight defense held strong in Morningside's overtime opportunity, setting up Josifovski for another game-winning attempt. He again did not disappoint, splitting the uprights on a 26-yard game-winning field goal. Josifovski was named Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game for his performance.
The Morningside offense sized control early, marching 70 yards on its opening possession to take a 7-0 lead at the 10:25 mark of the first quarter. The drive was capped by a Fred Jones 10-yard touchdown run, his first of two scores on the evening.
Marian (12-1) capitalized on a Mustang turnover to tie the score 7-7. However, Morningside responded with its second 70-yard scoring drive of the first quarter when Joel Nixon found Joel McCabe on a six-yard touchdown pass.
Josifovski nailed a 36-yard field goal with 3:55 left in the first half to make it a 14-10 Mustang advantage at the break.
Morningside (13-1) again drew first blood with its third 70-plus drive of the contest to open the second half scoring. Jones, who ran for more than100 yards for the first time this season, tallied his second touchdown of the night on a 1-yard dive. After David Galloway missed the PAT, Morningside held a 20-10 advantage.
Marian pulled within three, 20-17, two minutes later when Tevin Lake found the end zone for the second time on a 4-yard run with 7:33 left in regulation. That score capped the Knight's longest drive of the game - 88 yards on 11 plays.
The Knights took their first lead of the contest with 2:46 remaining, 24-20, when Adam Wiese tossed his only touchdown pass of the evening on a 61-yard strike to Nathan Jones. It was Wiese's 29th touchdown pass of the season and 52nd of his career.
Faced with a fourth-and-15 on its own 44 yard-line, the game began to look in doubt for the Mustangs. However, Nixon, who completed 22-of-39 passes for 228 yards, found Kyle Schuck with a 35-yard pass to give Morningside a first down with the ball on the Marian 21. Morningside, aided by a Knight pass interference penalty, scored two plays later when Nixon connect with a wide open Shuck in the end zone. The touchdown gave the Mustang's a 27-24 lead with a 1:04 remaining, which proved not enough to withstand Marian's late-game heroics.
Wiese paced the Marian offense with 242 yards of total offense, including 223 through the air. Lake, who notched his ninth 100-yard performance of the season, finished with 104 yards and two touchdowns on 23 attempts.
Defensively, five Knights finished the game with double-digit tackles, including John Keever's game-high 18 stops. Robert Palmer was named Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game after positing 13 tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one interception and one forced fumble.
2012 Russell Athletic-NAIA Football National Championship Awards
Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game: Mike Josifovski, Marian (Ind.)
Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game: Robert Palmer, Marian (Ind.)
MC - Fred Jones 10 yd run (David Galloway kick), 10:25, 1st
MU - Tevin Lake 7 yd run (Mike Josifovski kick), 6:19, 1st
MC - Joel McCabe 6 yd pass from Joel Nixon (David Galloway kick), 1:44, 1st
MU - Mike Josifovski 36 yd field goal, 3:55, 2nd
MC - Fred Jones 1 yd run (David Galloway kick no good), 9:34, 3rd
MU - Tevin Lake 4 yd run (Mike Josifovski kick), 7:33, 4th
MU - Nathan Jones 61 yd pass from Adam Wiese (Mike Josifovski kick), 2:46, 4th
MC - Kyle Schuck 7 yd pass from Joel Nixon (Ty Littzen kick), 1:04, 4th
MU - Mike Josifovski 35 yd field goal, 0:00, 4th
MU - Mike Josifvoski 26 yd field goal, 1st OT
National Championship Game Notes
• This marked the first-ever overtime contest in the 57th annual game.
• With the three-point margin of victory, this game has been a nail-biter in recent memory. Since 2009, the average margin of victory has been 3.25 points.
• The official attendance was listed at 5,263.
• This is the fifth-straight year that Rome, Ga., has served as host and the 45th different site for the Russell Athletic-NAIA National Championship.
Team and Individual Notes
• Morningside (Iowa) opened up the scoring in tonight's game at the 10:25 mark of the first quarter. Teams that score first now own a 10-6 record since the NAIA went to one division in 1997 - Saint Francis (Ind.) in 2006 was the last team to score first and lose the national championship.
• Tonight's matchup was the time since 2007 that both teams scored at least one touchdown in the first quarter.
• Fifth-ranked Marian (Ind.) becomes the second-straight team to win the national title with that position in the poll.
• Out of the Mid-States Football Association Mideast League, Marian is the second-consecutive team to win the title from that league. Saint Xavier (Ill.) was the 2011 champion.
• Morningside's (Iowa) Fred Jones scored at the 10:25 in the first quarter, which was the fifth earliest touchdown in a title game since 1998.
• Morningside's 14 first quarter points are tied for the most in the first quarter since the NAIA went to one division in 1997.
• The 21 combined points scored in the first quarter (14 by Morningside, 7 by Marian) was the most since 2006.
• Morningside's Joel Nixon's interception thrown in the second quarter was the first pick thrown in a title game since 2009.
• Marian's Adam Wiese entered the game one yard shy of 3,000 season passing yards. After his 233 yards tonight, he wraps up his 2012 season with 3,232 yards.
• Marian recorded an interception in 23 of its last 25 games, including its current streak of 12-straight to end this year.
• This was the fourth-straight title game with 11-or-more combined penalties - eighth since 1997.
• Morningside lost its bid to become the first unbeaten team to win the championship since Carroll (Mont.) in 2010.
• The lower-ranked team (No. 5 Marian) has now won six of the last seven national championships (No. 3 Morningside).
• After winning the Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game, Marian's Mike Josifovski becomes the second placekicker to win that same award. Braden Wieking of Sioux Falls (S.D.) was honored back in 2009.
• Both programs are appearing in their first-ever national championship, which marked the first time since two rookies went at it since 1998.
• The game was filled with penalties: this marked the first time since 1997 (when tracked) that a team has been penalized more than 100 yards (Marian had 12-for-160; Morningside had 12-for-157).
• This meeting was the first between the two programs in regular season or postseason.
• Marian wins its first-ever NAIA National Championship in any sport - this was only the sixth year for varsity football.
Postgame Press Conference Quotes
Head Coach Ted Karras, Jr. - Overall Comments
"I'm really proud of our players and their never-say-die mentality. This was a hard-fought game. It came down to a last-second kick again-the second year in-a-row for us. These guys have all believed in us. We've only been around six years. We started football for a lot of reasons, and to get to this point only happens with great coaches and great football players like these."
Mike Josifovski (Kicker) - Overall Comments
"The life of a kicker is a lonely life, all we do all day long is kick. When you sign up for this job, they warn you about these moments. These are the moments you want to hold onto and take advantage of. Fortunately for me, I have a great team and a great coaching staff around me."
Tevin Lake(Running back)-Overall Comments
"Coach preached at half time what he's preached all season. We have to work hard as a team and work together."
Robert Palmer (Linebacker)-When asked about being the MVP
"It's just a name for a player. It's a team effort-offensively, defensively-and it all came together."
Coach Ted Karras, Jr., -- about Josifovski
"I want to be sure you all know that Mike and I came from the same high school-Hobart High School in Indiana"
Coach Ted Karras, Jr. - On the season
"We have guys who don't quit. They're true believers, and a lot of them were pioneers. We only started football literally six years ago. We recruit guys who are hungry-hungry to play and hungry to get their degree-who have a never-say-die attitude. These are quality guys, who get their business done-on and off the field.
You saw it-a lot of people probably counted us out, but we came down the field and got it done. I couldn't be more proud of these guys.
Head coach Steve Ryan - Overall Comments:
"It was a great game. We made some plays down at the end, and I thought we gave ourselves a chance to win-it just didn't happen."
Joel Nixon (quarterback) - Overall Comments:
"I thought we put ourselves in a really good position to win the game. We fought as hard as we could. There wasn't one person who went into that locker room who didn't give it all on the field. I'm really proud of our team and I'm really proud of our coaching staff and the support they've given us all season. With it being so close, you always have the what-ifs. But Marian made the plays they needed to down the stretch, and they are the deserving team-they earned the trophy."
Coach Steve Ryan - Reflecting back on the season
"It was a great year, It was a special year-just the way we came together. I didn't think we thought we'd end up here (in the championship game), but it was a special year. It's a special team and it was a great year. A lot of players really developed. Joel developed into a great quarterback."