St. Xavier wins NAIA title, beating Carroll 24-20
ROME, Ga. (AP) - Carroll College had lost just once in seven previous title game appearances and it looked as if the Saints were going to pull out another NAIA championship.
St. Xavier, though, had other ideas.
After Carroll drove from its own 18, Dane Broadhead couldn't connect on four passes after a first down at the St. Xavier 9, dashing the Saints' hopes of a record-tying seventh NAIA title.
"It hurts to lose when we had a chance like that at the end of the game,'' said senior receiver Lat Wipplinger, the target on two of the passes. "It's definitely disappointing.''
Jimmy Coy accounted for 294 yards and two touchdowns, Mark Williams knocked down a fourth-down pass in the end zone with 2 minutes left and St. Xavier held off Carroll 24-20 Saturday.
St. Xavier (14-1) had to withstand a late pass into the end zone in its 30-27 victory over Marian in the semifinals. Against Carroll (13-2), the Cougars escaped again.
"I don't have any fingernails left,'' St. Xavier coach Mike Feminis said.
Jared Mayernik returned the second-half kickoff 94 yards to give Carroll its only lead. But the Saints missed the extra point and St. Xavier drove 67 yards to go back ahead on K.J. Franklin's 4-yard run early in the third quarter.
St. Xavier couldn't take advantage of a bad punt snap, with Tom Lynch missing a 20-yard field goal attempt midway in the third quarter and it looked as if that might be costly when Carroll drove from its 18 to the St. Xavier 9 late in the fourth quarter. But Broadhead couldn't connect on four pass attempts, the last one batted down by freshman Williams just before it got to Anthony Hogan.
"I was able to reach around and get one hand on it,'' Williams said. "It was close to pass interference, but I didn't hit him.''
Broadhead, who had just missed on the first three passes, had to scramble on fourth down and try to pick out a secondary receiver.
"Their D-line got good pressure and I didn't get to see the play like I'd have liked to,'' Broadhead said. "I just had to try to find someone the best that I could.''
"The best pass defense is a good pass rush,'' Carroll coach Mike Van Diest said.
Coy, a transfer from NCAA Division II Valdosta State, completed 28 of 43 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown, and ran for 78 yards and a score on 16 carries. He was selected the offensive player of the game.
"It's special to bring this home to Chicago,'' said Coy. "This means so much to the players who have been here four or five years. I'm just glad that I could be a part of it.''
The loss kept Carroll from a seventh title, which would have tied the NAIA record held by Texas A&I (now Texas A&M Kingsville). The Montana school was playing in the championship game for the eighth time in 10 years.
St. Xavier linebacker Patrick Appino was selected the defensive player of the game as the Cougars held Carroll's Chance Demarais, the NAIA player of the year, to 57 yards on 21 carries.
"We played with more heart than they did,'' Appino said. "We wanted it more.''
"There defense said that they were going to stop the run and they were able to do that,'' Demarais said. "They were fast and played very hard.''
St. Xavier's defense was very fast as well, the no-huddle spread attack directed by Coy jumping on Carroll in the first quarter to go up by 10 points early.
Once Carroll went to a four-man front, the Saints were better able to slow St. Xavier down.
"I should have done it early,'' Carroll coach Van Diest said. "My mistake for that.''
Carroll came in having given up just 17 points in three playoffs victories, but St. Xavier matched that it the first half while amassing 224 yards and taking a three-point lead.
Coy, who completed his first nine throws, was 18 of 26 passing for 113 yards and a touchdown in the first half, and also had 62 yards rushing and a score.
After settling for a 20-yard field goal from Lynch to cap an 81-yard march following the opening kickoff, St. Xavier marched 95 yards the next time it got the ball and went up 10-0 on Coy's 8-yard run.
Tom Yaremko missed on 42-yard field-goal attempt for Carroll early in the second quarter, but the Saints drove 62 yards the next time they had the ball and cut into the lead on Broadhead's 20-yard TD pass to Matt Ritter with 5:17 left in the half.
After a 43-yard kickoff return by Wes Gastel, St. Xavier pushed its lead back to 10 points on Coy's 11-yard TD pass to Shane Zackery with 1:22 left in the second quarter. But Carroll quickly struck back, making it 17-14 on Broadhead's 26-yard throw to Anthony Clarke with 43 seconds left in the half. The Saints went 57 yards in just four plays.
But Broadhead, who finished 20 of 31 for 223 yards, couldn't connect when it counted in the closing minutes. Ritter, who had 11 catches for 117 yards, was the target on the first throw and Wipplinger on the next two.
St. Xavier, which didn't begin football until 1993, had lost in the NAIA semifinals three of the past four years. Once the Chicago school made the title game, the Cougars were determined not to let a chance for their first championship slip away.
"This is the greatest feeling in the world,'' Feminis said. "We worked awfully hard for this.''