St. Xavier wins NAIA Football Championship
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media December 17, 2011 9:56PM
Members of the Saint Xavier football team celebrate after their NAIA national championship college football game against Carroll College, Saturday, Dec.17, 2011, in Rome, Ga. Saint Xavier won 24-20. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Updated: January 19, 2012 11:21AM
ROME, Ga. — For the second straight game, St. Xavier’s fortunes came down to a final defensive stand.
Saturday, the stakes — the school’s first NAIA National Championship — were bigger. The result was the same.
Again it was a freshman making the biggest play as cornerback Mark Williams knocked down Dane Broadhead’s pass on fourth and goal from the nine with 2:03 left to seal a 24-20 win over No. 2 Carroll College (Mont.) at Barron Stadium.
“The receiver ran an out, but he came back to the middle field and he was open,” Williams said. “I just ran as fast as I could. I knew I had to make the play or he’d catch it. It feels great. I can’t even put it into words.”
Carroll (13-2) had first and goal from the nine before the No. 5 Cougars (14-1) forced four straight incompletions.
“It’s so fitting,” St. Xavier coach Mike Feminis said. “Our offense gets all the credit, but all year our defense has been awesome. I didn’t even see who made the last play, but I heard it was [Williams]. Two [games] in a row a freshman made the play. Unbelievable.”
The Cougars took the 24-20 lead on a four-yard TD run by K.J. Franklin with 11:45 left in the third. An acrobatic 31-yard catch by Shane Zackery (9 catches, 78 yards) on a Jimmy Coy (28 of 43, 216 yards passing, 1 TD; 16 carries, 78 yards rushing, 1 TD) pass set it up.
“We ran the ‘Syracuse pump’,” Zackery said. “Jimmy pump-faked and they bit and Jimmy laid it out there. He trusted me to make a play and I went up and got it.”
The defense held five times after the go-ahead score, and Carroll’s only points of the second half came when Jared Mayernik returned the opening kickoff of the half 94 yards for a touchdown.
Carroll running back Chance Demarais, the national player of the year, was held to 57 yards on 21 carries.
“All four years our defense has been overlooked,” said defensive end Pat Appino, who had two tackles for a loss and a sack and was named Defensive MVP. “Our staff has been awesome, and they put us in position to make the plays.”
St. Xavier scored on three of its five first-half possessions and took a 17-14 lead to the break.
The Cougars gained some early momentum as they marched 81 yards on 15 plays on their first drive, which was capped by a 20-yard Tom Lynch field goal.
St. Xavier got it back and this time went 95 yards, the last 25 coming on Coy runs, including an 8-yard scramble to pay dirt. “We knew it’d be key to start off fast,” Coy, the Offensive MVP, said. “They love to run and we wanted to make them throw early to come from behind. It hasn’t hit me yet that we just won a national title. It feels like we just won another big game.”
Down 10-0, Carroll got on the board on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Broadhead to Matt Ritter with 5:17 left in the second.
The Cougars struck right back with an 11-yard TD pass from Coy to Zackery with 1:22 to go, but Carroll connected on another long pass with 39 seconds to go — Broadhead finding Anthony Clarke for a 26-yard score to help send the Saints to the locker room down just three.
The six-time national champions from Carroll may have been expecting No. 7 after Mayernik’s score.
Instead, it was the Cougars’ night.
“We had so many guys step up,” Feminis said. “It’s an indescribable feeling. I’ve never been so happy in my life.”