Morningside College practice at Darlington
He was quick to point out the person sitting to the right of Morningside head coach Steve Ryan — senior quarterback Joel Nixon.
So what is the key for Marian in Thursday’s NAIA Football National Championship game at Barron Stadium?
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“Not letting Nixon make all the plays that he’s made in the last 13 games,” Karras said.
Both teams’ head coaches along with a couple of standout players gathered in the Huffman Center at Darlington School for the traditional NAIA championship press conference Thursday and discussed each other and the opportunity to play for the national title for the first time.
“It’s a great honor to be here,” Ryan said.
“Our guys have worked hard this year and we’ve worked hard many a year but it’s great to finally get an opportunity to come down here.”
Marian (Ind.) started its football program just six years ago and has reached the NAIA Football Championship Series for three of those years.
“Our guys have played with a sense of urgency since we started the program and this year it came together,” Karras said.
The Knights come into the game ranked fifth in the NAIA Coaches’ Poll with an 11-1 record while No. 3 Morningside (Iowa) is 13-0 and the final unbeaten team in the league.
“We’ve got to come out and play our best football game of the season,” said Nixon. “There’s no doubt about that. If we don’t come out and play our best football we’re going to find ourselves in a real big dogfight.”
Nixon has seen his season become a story straight out of Hollywood as he stepped into the role of quarterback for the first time in his collegiate career and became one of the top passers in the nation.
He has 3,612 yards in the air is second in the NAIA and he leads the team in rushing with 770 yards.
“They’ve got a very good offense that puts up numbers with a very talented quarterback that can go all over the field,” said Marian defensive lineman Dan Brunke.
“It’s going to definitely be a challenge and we’re going to have to play some sound football to beat them. I think that you’re just going to have a battle on Thursday.”
But Marian quarterback Adam Wiese said they know that they can’t simply focus on Nixon if they plan to raise the championship trophy.
“You don’t get to the national championship by offense or defense alone. We know they’re a good team,” said the senior.
“Looking at their defense they’re very sound. They take their responsibilities very seriously. We know that we have to execute and take care of the things that we can control.”
Defense is a big part of both teams’ success with Morningside holding opponents to seven points or fewer in eight games this season and Marian holding two of its three playoff opponents to under 100 yards rushing.
“Their offense is the complete package,” said Morningside linebacker Chris Cavillo.
“Our biggest thing as a defense is to be gap sound and shut down the run first. I think if we accomplish that then we’ll have the most success at coming away with a victory.”
Cavillo is part of a defense that has totaled 98 tackles for loss this season along with 29 sacks.
“We have to come in with the mindset that we’re not going to win the game on one play and we’re not going to lose the game on one play,” Wiese said. “You just take one play at a time and take care of business.”