ROME, Ga. – (Box Score) No. 5 Saint Xavier (Ill.) took home its first-ever trophy by winning the Russell Athletic-NAIA Football National Championship, 24-20, over No. 2 Carroll (Mont.) tonight at Barron Stadium. Appearing in their first title game, the Cougars top-ranked offense recorded 355 yards.
“This is indescribable,” said St. Xavier head coach Mike Feminis. “So many guys stepped up. Offensively, we have an All-America quarterback in Jimmy Coy and an All-America wide receiver in Shane Zackery. They had the best games of their year tonight. Our offense gets a lot of the attention but our defense came up big to win us the national championship.
Behind the legs and arm of senior quarterback and Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game Jimmy Coy, the Cougars (14-1) put pressure on the Carroll defense. Coy finished with 294 yards of total offense, with 216 coming through the air. He tossed one touchdown and found the end zone on the ground.
The Cougar offense was impressive early scoring on their first two drives of the game. Equally important was the unit eating up the clock. Tom Lynch booted a 20-yard field goal, which was followed by an eight-yard touchdown run by Coy. With 1:43 remaining in the first quarter, St. Xavier held a 10-0 advantage. Both drives spanned 15 plays and covered more than 70 yards each.
Carroll’s offense in the second quarter got going. Senior quarterback Dane Broadhead hit senior wide receiver Matt Ritter from 20 yards out to put the Fighting Saints on the board. That play culminated a 10-play, 62 yard drive. Coy and the Cougar offense responded quickly going 49 yards in nine plays and scoring on an 11-yard pass to junior wide receiver Shane Zackery.
With just over a minute left in the first half, Carroll did not lay down as it trailed 17-7. Broadhead engineered a quick strike by finding freshman wide receiver Anthony Clarke on a 26-yard score. That drive only took :43 on the clock.
At the half, St. Xavier led 17-14 as both offenses gained over 200 yards.
Freshman Jared Mayernik put the Fighting Saints in the lead for the first time by returning the second half opening kickoff 94 yards. After a Tom Yaremko missed PAT, Carroll held a 20-17 advantage. That kickoff return for a score was the first in the national championship since Adam Lopez of Sioux Falls (S.D.) went 91 yards for a touchdown in 2009.
The lead was short-lived for Carroll. Three minutes later, St. Xavier’s KJ Franklin rushed in from four yards out. That capped another long drive with 11 plays and 67 yards and would be the eventual game-winner for the team out of the Mid-States Football Association Mideast Division.
The Saint Xavier defense, which was overshadowed all season by the No. 1-ranked offense, put on a show in the second half. The Carroll offense had successive drives of zero yards, 12 and 20 that spanned into the fourth quarter. The Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game Patrick Appino was the star with five total tackles (four solo), 1.0 sack and 2.0 tackles-for-loss. He was part of a unit to tally 9.0 tackles-for-loss and 2.0 sacks.
Junior strong safety Clayton Fejedelem led the Cougars with nine total stops (six solo) and three pass break-ups. Sophomore linebacker Zach Dolph and senior backer Michael Prosser each were credited with eight total tackles.
Defensively for Carroll, junior linebacker Thomas Robison went for 14 tackles (10 solo) and one tackle-for-loss.
Coy led all rushers with 78 yards on 16 carries for a 4.9 yard average. His favorite target was Zackery, who caught nine balls for 78 yards. Broadhead went 20-for-31 passing for 223 yards and two touchdowns for the Fighting Saints. Ritter had 11 catches for 117 yards. National Player of the Year Chance Demarais was held to 57 rushing yards on 21 carries for a 2.7 average.
Carroll, who was shooting for its seventh national title, ends its season with a 13-2 record.
Championship Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game: Jimmy Coy, Saint Xavier (Ill.)
Championship Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game: Joseph Appino, Saint Xavier (Ill.)
- The official attendance was listed at 5,917.
- This is the fourth-straight year that Rome, Ga., has served as host and the 45th different site for the National Championship.
- Saint Xavier becomes the first team since Carroll in 2002 to win the national title in its first game appearance.
- In the last five years, the national championship has not been decided until the final moments. The average margin of victory during that span was 6.8 points, including a three-point win for Carroll last season. In the five-year span prior (2001-05), the average margin of victory was 15.0 points.
- A win by Saint Xavier means that a team other than Carroll or Sioux Falls (S.D.) is the national champion for the first time since 2001.
- Members of the Mid-States Football Association (MSFA), Saint Xavier is the first team out of the MSFA to play for the title since Saint Francis (Ind.) appeared in 2006. The Cougars are the MSFA’s first national champion since former NAIA school Findlay (Ohio) won it all in 1997.
- Carroll falls to 6-2 all-time in the National Championship.
- The eight national title game appearances for Carroll ties Texas A&I for the second-most amount of any NAIA team. Westminster (Pa.) advanced to nine trophy contests.
- All eight of Carroll’s championship game appearances have come since 2002. In a 10-year span, that amount of National Championship game appearances is the most in NAIA history. Two teams made the trophy game six times during a 10-year stint, Texas A&I (1968-77) and Sioux Falls (S.D.) (2001-10).
- Since the Rawlings-NAIA Player of the Year award was handed out beginning in 1997, the winner of the award has not translated into team success. In that span, the Player of the Year has played on a team that is 6-6 in the National Championship. This year, the Player of the Year was handed to Carroll’s Chance Demarais.
- Carroll’s Chance Demarais was limited to 57 rushing yards, with his longest run of the game covering 10 yards.
- The No. 2-ranked team entering the National Championship falls to 5-3 since 2000. The No. 5 ranked clubs are now 1-1 after the Saint Xavier victory. Saint Xavier is the lowest seed to reach the title game since No. 9 Carroll upset No. 2 Saint Francis (Ind.), 15-13, in 2004.
- With both teams entering Saturday with one loss, it snaps a six-year streak of both of the National Championship qualifiers being undefeated.
- The lower-ranked team has now won five of the last six national championships.