For those fans, the “Road to Rome” has now taken on a literal meaning.
They’ll be traveling our way in big numbers next week to watch Morningside (Iowa) and Marian (Ind.) collide in this year’s NAIA championship at Barron Stadium on Thursday, Dec. 13. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m., and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Television.
Marian and Morningside will each be making their first-ever appearances in the title game, which means that Rome will be hosting a high volume of first-time guests — including players, coaches and fans — during the Championship Week festivities.
Ticket information for the championship game, along with tickets for many of the Championship Week events, can be found online at naianationalchampionship.com.
Marian and Morningside punched their tickets to the 57th annual Russell Athletic-NAIA Football National Championship with semifinal victories on Saturday. Morningside downed defending national champion Saint Xavier (Ill.), 47-19, in Sioux City, Iowa, while Marian (Ind.) claimed a 20-17 victory over previously-unbeaten Missouri Valley on the road.
Marian became just the third school since 2004 to win on the road in the semifinals, and bucked a trend that had seen the home teams post a 21-5 record in the semis since the 2000 season.
As for Morningside, it’s victory was also a surprise — at least in terms of the margin — as the Morningside offense, notably quarterback Joel Nixon, essentially overwhelmed the defending national champions.
Nixon rolled through the Cougar defense, which entered the contest allowing opponents only 13.9 points per game, by collecting 367 yards of total offense. He completed 22-of-34 pass attempts for 335 yards and four touchdowns. He was named the Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game award.
Marian’s win in the semifinals on Saturday was a little more dramatic. With the score tied at 17-17, Marian defensive back Nathan Toon recorded his second interception of the game with 2:52 remaining. The Knights drove down to the Missouri Valley 34-yard line and called timeout with 1.7 seconds on the clock, providing place-kicker Michael Josifovski an attempt at a fourth field goal of the afternoon. Josifovski, who hit a program-record 54-yard attempt earlier in the game, split the uprights to send Marian to its first national championship appearance.
Naia Playoff Notes, News And Numbers:
• A combined 870 points were scored through the first 14 games.
• With Missouri Valley’s loss on Saturday, Morningside is the only remaining unbeaten team at 13-0.
• Bethel’s (Tenn.) 45-44 first round victory over Georgetown (Ky.) marked the first time the top-ranked team in the final NAIA Football Coaches’ Top 25 Poll has fallen in the first round of the FCS, dating back to 1999.
• Seven teams have made at least 10 FCS appearances (including this year): Georgetown (18), Missouri Valley (10), Saint Francis (Ind.) (13), St. Ambrose (Iowa) (12), MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) (10), Baker (Kan.) (12) and Northwestern (Iowa) (16).
• There were nine repeat programs from the 2011 FCS First Round.
• Saint Francis extended its 2012 FCS qualifier-best first round win streak to 11 games with a 22-17 win over Baker. The Cougars last first round loss came in 2001 against Campbellsville (Ky.), 42-21.
• Six-time NAIA national champion and FCS regular Carroll (Mont.) failed to make the field of 16 for the first time since the 1999 season. The Fighting Saints had appeared in eight of the last 10 title games. Dickinson State (N.D.), who has 15 playoff appearances, is the squad with the second-most appearances to miss the cut this season.
• St. Ambrose’s 12 appearances were the most amongst the field for a team that has never appeared in the title game. The Fighting Bees, who have never advanced past the quarterfinals, fell in the first round to Southern Oregon.
• There were no playoff newcomers in the field this year. William Penn (Iowa) has the fewest appearances amongst the group with one prior to this season. The Statesmen remain winless in two trips after the loss to Saint Xavier in the first round.
• William Penn made its first trip to the FCS First Round for the first time since 1975 - the longest drought amongst the qualifiers.