Morningside vs Marian – My Analysis of the NAIA Football Title Game

When Marian University and Morningside College step onto the field at Barron Stadium in Rome, Ga. on Thursday night, one team will walk away with their first ever NAIA football national championship.  They will join the ranks of the NAIA’s most storied programs like Carroll College, Georgetown College and the University of Sioux Falls.

While each of those teams have won multiple titles, Thursday’s winner will no doubt be the program that fans of small college football will point to as one of the next greatest programs.  Keep in mind that since 2000, only one team outside of that list has won a title and that team, Saint Xavier, was knocking on the door again this year.

Morningside Offense
491.7 ypg of Total Offense 45.5 ppg
C  61  Josh Steinberg
FB  16  Joel McCabe
LG  58  Joe Brummer
LT 57  Byron Klauenberg
QB  10  Joel Nixon
RB  5  Josh Gaedke
RG  78  Nolan Long
RT  60  Cole Albright
TE  31  Austin Klett
WR  88  Kyle Schuck
WR  6  Trav Hantelman

Marian Offense
440.3 ypg of Total Offense 35.7 ppg
C  61  Z. Mitchell  
FB  46  Brad Naffziger  
LG  60  Steve Seculoff  
LT  78  Brody Dixon  
QB  17  Adam Wiese  
RB  10  Tevin Lake  
RG  51  Brad Knipfel  
RT  69  Zach VanDeman  
TE  8  Nathan Jones  
WR  4  John Hasty  
WR  3  Anthony Jones  
Morningside Defense
295.3 ypg allowed 11.9 ppg allowed
DB  3  Colby Henderson
DB  7  Ben Rickord
DL  50  Keith Chvatal
DL  96  Bret Doorenbos
DL  92  Marcus Smith
FS  22  Jared Goforth
LB  18  Sean Elliott
LB  41  Aaron Roberg
LB  11  Chris Calvillo
LB  40  Taylor Johnson
SS  20  Cole Boger

Marian Defense
261.3 ypg allowed 17.4 ppg allowed
DB 7  Nathan Toon  
DB 31  Taylor Maxey  
DL 2  Seth Vondersaar
DL  33  Garrett Pritt  
DL  52  Billy Baker  
DL  20  Dan Brunke  
FS 19  Stephen Rogers  
LB  24  Robert Palmer  
LB  44  Ryan Hartnett  
LB  41  John Keevers  
SS 9  T. Howenstine  

The @jdannelly Twitter Analysis of the game: (140 Characters or less)
Marian Offense: “Adam Wiese makes plays. 27TDs and just 7 INTs. RB Tevin Lake is a load averaging 135.8 yards rushing. Wiese is best untold story in the NAIA.”

Morningside Offense: “Joel Nixon is the most athletic QB we’ve seen in the national championship since Patrick Crayton at NWOSU. He makes this offense go.”

Marian Defense: “Faced stiffer offensive competition all year than their counterparts. Will be more seasoned to face the Mustang attack.”

Morningside Defense: “Bend but don’t break.  Whenever their backs were against the wall in the postseason, they’d find a way to get a turnover or score points.”

Marian Special Teams: “Mike Josifovski hit 51 yard field goal for a game winner to send the Knights to the championship game.  I think that says it all.”

Morningside Special Teams: “Colby Henderson has two kick returns for touchdowns, including a 98 yarder in the postseason. He’s dangerous with the ball in his hands.”

Marian Coaching: “Five years ago, Coach Karras started this football program from scratch and it has been born into one of the NAIA’s new national powers.”

Morningside Coaching: “Coach Ryan took over a program that was left for dead and instantly made them competitive. He’s one of the best in small college football.”

Why Marian Will Win: “They’ve played against athletic QBs like Nixon and will limit his ability to get loose and make things happen. Wiese has to make plays.”

Why Morningside Will Win: “Their offense always finds away.  When this team has been down in the postseason, they’ve always battled back. It’s a never say die attitude.”

Thursday night’s tweet from @jdannelly about the outcome of the game: “The Morningside Mustangs take home their first NAIA football national title with a fourth quarter comeback over Marian University, 35-31.”

Final Thoughts
Covering sports for the last 15 years of my life probably got me jaded towards the meaningful things in college athletics.  The NAIA football national championship started to become this “thing” I had to cover every December and I might have started to lose sight of what the game meant for everyone involved.  Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was pretty sweet that I got to travel the country all year and then swoop into the national championship game and have half of the fans hate me as soon as I made a prediction.

The point I am trying to make is that what is going to happen in Rome, Ga. from December 10th – 13th is really special to a couple thousand people.  The guys that get to play in this game will never get the opportunity to feel as special as they do during this event ever again. The people of Rome and the fans involved in this game will metaphorically hoist these athletes upon their shoulders all week and carry them around emotionally like the kings they deserve to be for a few days.

This is special. It’s the one time they can lay it all on the line against their peers in the NAIA and walk away knowing they were the best in the country.  They can celebrate with their friends and family who spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars just to see them play 60 minutes of football.

I make a prediction on this game because that is what I am suppose to do but in no way am I trying to make either side feel any less significant coming into this game.  If anything, I just want everyone involved to know how special these couple of days are to these student athletes and we should go out of our way to let them know it.

Best of luck to Morningside and Marian! We’ll see you in Rome!

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