INDIANAPOLIS - The No. 1-ranked Marian University football team's season came to an end on the final play of the game in the NAIA Football Championship Series semifinals as No. 5-ranked Saint Xavier University came away with a 30-27 victory at St.Vincent Health Field on Saturday afternoon.
The Knights close the 2011 season with their best-ever record of 12-1 and earned the 2011 Mid-States Football Association Mideast League championship, their first-ever title. SXU heads to the 56th Annual Russell Athletic-NAIA Football National Championship game on Dec. 17 to take on No. 2-ranked Carroll College, the defending national champions, in Rome, Ga.
The Knights got the ball with 3:54 remaining and two timeouts trailing by three, 30-27. They had 49 yards between them and the national title game. MU marched as junior Adam Wiese
hit senior Dexter Taylor
four times, including a 12-yard pass that put MU at the SXU one-yard line. A bad snap forced them back to the five before an illegal procedure penalty pushed them to the 10-yard line on second-and-goal. A Wiese pass to senior Julian Williams
was batted down before Wiese looked for Taylor in the back corner of the endzone on third-and-goal. The pass was tipped as Taylor went up to get it and the SXU defender caught the tipped ball and shuffled his feet in-bounds to seal the victory with eight seconds remaining.
Junior quarterback Adam Wiese
led the Knights offense after he went 23-of-35 for 318 yards and two touchdowns, while freshman Tevin Lake
finished with five receptions for 106 yards. Seven different receivers caught passes for the Knights.
The Knights, who averaged 220.6 yards per game on the ground, struggled to establish the run between the tackles and were held to just 99 yards rushing for the game. However, the defense stood its ground against the run, once again, as SXU tallied just 40 yards on the ground. Both teams were rendered one-dimensional and, after a first half that finished tied at 10, the game became an aerial shootout.
MU took the first lead of the game with 2:54 remaining in the first quarter. Facing first-and-goal at the SXU eight-yard line, the Knights could not get the ball in the endzone as the SXU defense held at the one-yard line. Junior Mike Josifovski
gave MU the 3-0 lead with a 20-yard field goal to cap an 11-play, 47-yard drive that chewed 6:04 off the first quarter clock.
Both teams were forced to punt on their next drives, but SXU capitalized on an MU mistake with 11:15 to go in the half. Wiese was intercepted by SXU linebacker Michael Prosser at the MU 28-yard line and Prosser took it back for a touchdown to give the Cougars a 7-3 lead. It was the first time in 2011 that the Knights had trailed, but it didn't last long.
On the ensuing MU drive, the Knights marched 59 yards in eight plays to take back the lead at 10-7. Wiese hit sophomore Nick Zachery
, who made an amazing over the defender grab, for a 20-yard touchdown to cap the drive and give MU the lead with 6:53 to go in the half.
The teams traded punts again before SXU began a late drive at their own 36-yard line. Quarterback Jimmy Coy hit Wes Gastel with a 51-yard pass to put the Cougars at the MU 13-yard line. SXU got to the MU four-yard line before the nation's top defense held the Cougars to a game-tying 23-yard field goal with 2:23 to go.
The final 2:23 saw both defenses hold and sent the game to the interval with the score knotted, 10-10. The Knights amassed just 94 yards of total offense, while the Cougars were able to gain just 119 yards through two quarters. The game was shaping up to be one of the best games in NAIA history.
The Knights got the ball to open the half and were forced into a punt. Junior Kyle Fox
got off a punt that looked as if it may have been tipped, but only went 19 yards to place SXU with great field position. They capitalized immediately with a 25-yard touchdown pass to take a 16-10 lead. The lead lasted all of 57 seconds.
MU started at their own 25-yard line and held Lake on the first play of the drive. Wiese stepped up into the pocket on the next play and hit senior Oluawtosin Ikudabo with a precise 76-yard touchdown pass to give MU a 17-16 lead with 11:19 remaining in the third quarter. It was Ikudabo's fourth touchdown reception of the season.
The teams traded punts before SXU responded with a nine-play, 65-yard drive that tookup 2:17 on the clock. Coy hit Shane Zackery with a seven-yard touchdown pass to give SXU a 23-17 lead with 3:48 to go in the third.
MU answered immediately, once again. Wiese hit Lake with a 69-yard pass to open the drive before senior Nick Bradford
converted on fourth-and-goal with a two-yard touchdown run to give MU the 24-23 lead. The touchdown was Bradford's ninth of the season.
SXU marched down the field and scored on a nine-play, 67-yard drive when Coy hit Gastel with a 13-yard pass to give the Cougars the 30-24 lead.
MU responded after a 41-yard kickoff return by junior Clifford Brown
set the Knights up in great field position. However, the Knights had to settle for a Josifovski 43-yard field goal to cut the lead to three at 30-27 with 10:47 remaining.
Each team was forced to punt with the MU defense holding SXU on two drives to set up the ill-fated game-ending drive.
The Knights set all sorts of records in 2011. Not only did they finish the season with the nation's No. 1-ranked defense, they also finished the season as the nation's No. 1-ranked team. Lake rushed for a single-season school record 1,248 yards and Wiese completed the most efficient season in school history with a 69 percent completion rate and 23 touchdown passes.
The Knights finished with a school record 12 victories and earned its second straight NAIA FCS berth with its first-ever berth in the national semifinals.