Marian and Southern Oregon will lock it up this Friday in what I consider to be one of the more mysterious NAIA football championship games in recent memory. It seems like even though in recent years we had new faces in the title game everyone knew what the teams in the game were about or had seen them rise to the top of the NAIA.
Both of this year’s participants were long shots to make it to the title game at the start of the season and even bigger longshots when the season got over. But these teams showed moxy and battled their way to Daytona Beach being the first NAIA football teams to christen the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
Marian is a different team with a different staff from just a few years ago when they defeated Morningside for their first ever football title. Southern Oregon is in their first football chipper ever and is a team that a few years ago many had figured would wallow in the seas of mediocrity for the foreseeable future.
But instead of these teams being what everyone expected them to be we get one of the most intriguing matchups ever in an NAIA football championship game. It is one of the best offenses in the country against one of the best defenses in the country. Add in the drama of perhaps the best quarterback in the history of the NAIA leading one of those teams and you have a real life made for TV mystery drama ready to unfold.
I guess it’s a good thing the NAIA got the game to land on ESPNU this year.
Austin Dodge has been the talk of the NAIA quarterback scene since he burst onto it as a freshman. Over the last four years he has racked up the stats in what has become traditionally one of the best offenses in all of the country. The one knock against SOU and Dodge over the last few years has been their inability to win the big games that would put them in contention to win an NAIA national title.
Enter 2014. . . He led a come from behind drive against Carroll College at Nelson Stadium in the snow to earn the right to play in the semifinals. Then SOU went on the road again and knocked off Saint Xavier. Dodge and SOU have been clutch and essentially “arrived” as one of the NAIA’s best.
My advice on anyone looking at Marian is this, don’t pay attention to the first four games of the season. At that time, no one in their right mind would have put the 2-2 Knights into the postseason, let alone the title game. But what the first four games of the season did was it allowed the Knights to gel. They had a lot of new, inexperienced faces leading this team. The talent was there but the consistency was not. Since starting 2-2, Marian has been unbeaten and allowed just 11 points per game on defense. Considering the same squad gave up 65 points in their week one loss to Saint Xavier and I’d say they’ve come around.
What will this game come down to? Turnovers and defense. Both teams have the ability and talent on the offensive side of the ball to score points. The question (as cliché as it sounds) will be who can stop the other team. Keep in mind that even though SOU hasn’t put up crazy defensive numbers this year they have still managed to make big stops when needed.
My pick to win the game this year is Southern Oregon. I guess I like fairy tale endings to careers and first time winners. Plus I recently watched the “Valentine’s Day Massacre” video from SOU last spring and it got me all jacked up. Marian is a great football team and a very capable champion but I think the SOU match up will give their defense some issues.
SOU 35 Marian 24