Senior Eric Sheppard had two interceptions to earn NAIA FCS Defensive Player of the Game honors in Saturday's 49-7 win.
INDIANAPOLIS - The No. 1-ranked Marian University football team booked its place in the 2011 NAIA Football Championship Series semifinals after a dominant 49-7 victory over the 11th-ranked University of St. Francis (Ill.) on Saturday afternoon at St.Vincent Health Field.
The Knights (12-0) used an unstoppable rushing offense and a strong defense to send the Fighting Saints (10-3), who had their best season in school history, home in defeat.
Freshman running back Tevin Lake
, who earned NAIA FCS Offensive Player of the Game honors for the second time, played like a man on a mission. He rushed the ball 18 times for 176 yards and three touchdowns to lead MU. Junior quarterback Adam Wiese
finished the day 10-of-13 for 165 yards passing and threw three touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Julian Williams
had four catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns, including a 40-yard touchdown reception.
Defensively, senior Eric Sheppard
, who was named NAIA FCS Defensive Player of the Game, led the Knights with two interceptions and nine total tackles (five solo), including one tackle-for-loss. Senior Isaac Jean
and sophomore Seth Vondersaar
each tallied 12 tackles on the day with each having three solo hits. MU tallied five tackles-for-loss and four interceptions in the win.
The Knights opened the game on defense and saw USF march down the field from its own 30-yard line to the MU 16. However, an intentional grounding penalty pushed the Saints back to the MU 36-yard line and forced them to punt, which resulted in a touchback.
MU took over from its own 20-yard line and responded in kind. Lake rattled off rushes of 10, 12 and 10 yards before Wiese hit junior Clifford Brown
with a nine-yard touchdown pass to cap a six-play, 80-yard drive that took just 1:55 off the first quarter clock and gave MU a 7-0 lead.
The ensuing drive saw Sheppard quell the USF attack with his fifth interception of the season, which he returned 29 yards, and put the Knights at the USF 43-yard line. Wiese was picked off on the Knights' next drive before USF was forced to punt.
The Knights immediately marched the ball down the fied on a seven-play, 52-yard drive that culminated with a nine-yard touchdown run by Lake to give MU a 14-0 lead with 13:24 remaining in the half. Lake rushed the ball five times for 30 yards on the drive, while senior fullback Nick Bradford
had a 17-yard rush and a four-yard reception for the Knights. It was the first drive of the game in which MU faced a third down.
USF took over at their own 45-yard line after an MU penalty on the kickoff. Once again, they marched down the field, but the defense held. USF quarterback E.J. White was picked off for a second time by Sheppard at the MU two-yard line and returned it 64 yards to put the Knights at the USF 39-yard line with 9:52 to go in the half.
MU would not seize the opportunity as a 24-yard field goal went wide right on a windy day to keep the score at 14-0. However, the Knights would get the ball back on the second play of the ensuing USF drive as senior, and MSFA Mideast League Player of the Year, Dustin Craig
forced a fumble at the USF 24-yard line and junior Dan Brunke
recovered it to put MU in scoring position again.
This time, the Knights would seize the chance as Lake broke through on the first play for a 24-yard touchdown run to put MU up 21-0 with 7:22 to go in the half.
The two teams would trade possessions to close the half and the No. 1-ranked team in the nation was just 30 minutes from its first-ever NAIA national semifinal with a 21-0 lead.
MU would get the ball to open the second half and the Knights made the most of the opportunity. Lake rushed for 21 yards and Bradford rushed for 19 yards before Wiese hit Williams with a 40-yard touchdown pass to make the score 28-0 with 13:25 to go in the third quarter.
Another USF fumble on the ensuing drive was recovered by the Knights, but a halfback pass was intercepted at the USF one-yard line to give the Saints the ball back with 13:05 on the third quarter clock.
The Saints got to their own 33-yard line on 10 plays, but junior Nathan Toon
intercepted White to give MU the ball and another short field. They took advantage again, but this time it was more methodical.
The Knights used six plays to go 60 yards as Lake busted through for a one-yard touchdown to give MU a 35-0 cushion with over 20 minutes remaining in the game. Lake rushed for 45 yards on the drive and capped it with his third touchdown of the day.
On the ensuing drive, the Saints marched deep into MU territory where they had first-and-goal at the MU three-yard line. After a three-yard loss, White threw an incomplete pass before a second throw ended up being plucked out of the air with one hand by junior Jerimy Finch
for MU's fourth interception of the day.
Starting from their own 13-yard line, Brown and Bradford combined for the first 40 yards of the drive before Wiese found junior John Hasty
over the middle with a 47-yard touchdown pass to give MU a seven-touchdown cushion at 42-0.
USF gave the ball up on downs as the Knights' defense held again and set up another scoring drive. Brown broke through from two yards out to give MU a 49-0 lead with 6:06 to go in the game.
Now the only question that remained was if the Knights' defense could hold their sixth shutout of the season. USF embarked on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in an 11-yard touchdown pass to make the score 49-7 with just 1:38 remaining. It was the first touchdown pass surrendered in 2011 by the Knights' defense, but it was for not as MU advanced to the semifinals with the 49-7 win.
MU only held the ball for 22:07 of the 60 minutes, but were 3-of-4 inside the red zone and scored seven touchdowns. They surpassed the 400-yard mark in total offense for the sixth time this season with 448 yards of total offense and racked up 283 of those yards on the ground.
The top-ranked Knights will find out who they play next Saturday at St.Vincent Health Field for a berth in the 56th Annual Russell Athletic NAIA Football National Championship on Sunday. Saturday's game will kick off at 1 p.m.
Fifth-ranked Saint Xavier University was 29-14 winners of No. 4-ranked Mid-America Nazarene, No. 2-ranked and defending national champion Carroll College was 17-14 winners over No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific and No. 3-ranked Georgetown College knocked off No. 9-ranked Saint Francis (Ind.) by a 26-14 score.