But a fourth quarter rally led to the first overtime in the history of the title game and a 26-yard field goal gave Marian (Ind.) University a highlight for their football team’s short six-year history.
Mike Josifovski, who kicked the winning field goal against Missouri Valley on Dec. 1 in the semifinals of the Football Championship Series, kicked a 26-yard field goal in OT to give the Knights a 30-27 win over Morningside (Iowa) at Barron Stadium.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” the senior kicker said. “You can’t write this stuff. I couldn’t have ever imagined it would end like this.”
Thursday night was the first time Marian and Morningside played in the NAIA Football National Championship.
“We have guys that don’t quit,” said Marian head coach Ted Karras, Jr. “We’re true believers and we’re pioneers.
“We started six years ago. We recruit guys that are hungry to play with a never-say-die attitude. They’re quality guys. They take care of business.”
The loss was Morningside’s first of the season.
“I’m disappointed,” said Mustang quarterback Steve Ryan. “We made some plays down the end to give ourselves a chance to win. I thought we were going to do it. It just didn’t happen.”
Marian was down 20-10 after three quarters of play and began to swing the momentum its way when Ryan Hartnett intercepted Morningside quarterback Joel Nixon at the goalline near the start of the final quarter.
That sparked the Knights to put together an eleven-play, 88-yard drive.
It was capped by a four-yard touchdown run from running back Tevin Lake.
Josifovski, who was 3-for-3 on extra points, made the PAT and got the Knights within three of Morningside.
After the Mustangs punted, Marian quarterback Adam Wiese worked to keep his team on the rise and punctuated the drive with a 61-yard pass that was caught by Nathan Jones at the goal-line for a touchdown.
Now behind for the first time in the game, Morningside got to work on the ensuing possession and was able to get down the field quickly thanks to quarterback Joel Nixon.
The senior made a 35-yard pass to Kyle Schuck on foruth-and-15 that kept the drive alive led to Schuck catching a seven-yard touchdown strike with 1:04 left to play.
Finding themselves once again down by three, Marian used clock management to march down the field and set up Josifovski for a game-tying 35-yard field goal as time expired.
“At that point, honestly, something came over us where we didn’t think we were going to lose,” Josifovski said.
The Knights’ Daniel Rojas broke up a Nixon pass on fourth down to end the Mustang’s shot at scoring first in the overtime period and Marian went out and decided to look to Josifovski to give them the title.
The kicker, who also made a 36-yard field goal in the game, was named the Championship Offensive Player of the Game and Marian linebacker Robert Palmer was named the Championship Defensive Player of the Game after he recorded 13 tackles as well as a forced fumble and an interception.
“He’s clutch,” said Palmer of the kicker they nicknamed “Megafoot”. “We knew he wouldn’t miss. He never does when the game is on the line.”
Wiese finished the game with 233 yards passing and a touchdown for Marian while running back Tevin Lake had 104 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
Nixon threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns along with two interceptions while the Mustangs were led on the ground by senior Fred Jones, who ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
“I thought we put ourselves in a really good position to win the game,” Nixon said. “With it being so close, you’ve got the what-ifs. But you know what, Marian made the plays they needed to play down the stretch. They’re the deserving team.”
The penalties came quick and often as a flag was thrown on the opening kickoff return and both teams combined for more than 200 yards of penalties in the first half alone.
After Morningside won the battle of the first round by leading 14-7, both teams’ defenses moved to the forefront in the second quarter as each offense struggled to move the ball.
Nixon was sacked by John Keevers and Billy Baker to lead to a punt on the Mustang’s first drive of the quarter and Palmer intercepted a third-and-9 pass on the Marian 37 on Morningside’s next drive.
Wiese was intercepted two drives later when the Mustang’s Taylor Johnson picked off a pass on his team’s 24-yard line with 2:09 on the clock.
Marian’s Mike Josifovski put up the only points of the second quarter as he kicked a 36-yard field goal to cut the Knight’s deficit to 14-10 with 3:55 left in the first half.
Morningside led off the second half with a 13-play, 78-yard scoring drive that took 5:26 off of the clock and re-established their lead.
It was Nixon who lit the spark for the Mustang’s offense by connecting with Kyle Schuck and Tyler Sinsabaugh on passes of 13 and 22 yards, respectively.
After getting down to the one-yard line, it took Morningside until third-and-goal before Jones was finally able to reach the end zone.
Galloway’s extra point was low and wide right, making the score 20-10.
NOTES: The game ball and coin for the pregame coin flip were delivered to the field before kickoff by members of the Silver Wings parachute demonstration team out of Fort Benning … The attendance for the game was 5,362.