Unity was finally forged in the 1994 season finale, a 13-8 loss to Wisconsin-Eau Claire, which entered the game winless in the Wisconsin State University Conference. "Finally we all agreed on something," said Ivey. "To be eliminated from the playoffs by a team that hadn't won a game, well, we never wanted to know that feeling again. In the off-season we rededicated ourselves. This year we have an offense and a defense that were willing to pick each other up."
To wit: Eagle All-America quarterback Craig Kusick, the 6'6" son of the former Minnesota Twin first baseman of the same name, struggled miserably in the first quarter last Saturday. However, while the defense kept Rowan in check, Kusick gradually found his rhythm and finished the game with 281 yards and four touchdowns passing.
That kind of balance on offense and defense also served North Alabama well this fall. Lion senior quarterback Cody Gross, whose play had been overshadowed by the success of the Purple Swarm, finished his college career with a 41-2 record as a starter. After tearing a muscle in his left hip during the Lions' 45-7 win over Ferris (Mich.) State in the semifinals two weeks ago, Gross was uncertain whether he would be able to play against Pittsburg State. He didn't even practice last week; instead he repaired to the trainers' room for treatments that began at 6:30 a.m. and sometimes ended as late as midnight. By game day he was ready to play. He completed 8 of 13 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown as North Alabama churned out 380 yards and held the ball for an astounding 40:13.
"What I always wanted to do was walk off that field a winner," Gross said afterward. But he didn't quite get his wish. After the Lions accepted the championship trophy at midfield, a group of fans hoisted Gross onto their shoulders and carried him off the Braly Stadium field for the last time.