Champions Crowned In NAIA, D-II, and D-III. FCS Sets Championship Matchup

After a grueling season followed by a run through the playoffs, three football national champions in the NAIA, NCAA Division II, and NCAA Division III ranks were crowned. In addition to the three national champions at national title games played in Virginia, Kansas, and Florida, we also saw the FBS playoffs eliminate two more programs in route to a national championship matchup that very few expected heading into the playoffs.

With no further ado, let’s take a look at this past weekend in non-FBS football.

Saint Francis wins the NAIA title 38-17 over Baker:

The biggest games of the season generally demand that the best players stand up and lead their teams to victory. For St. Francis, that player was All-American wide receiver Seth Coate with nine catches for 180 yards and three touchdowns.

Coate was nearly unstoppable, making half of the team’s 18 catches on the day and a majority of their offensive yards. His touchdown grabs late in the third quarter and early in the fourth turned a 17-10 lead into a 31-10 rout.

Baker, with one of the better offenses in the NAIA, were unable to find a way to neutralize the St. Francis front seven. In total, the Cougars harassed Baker for five sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, and forced two fumbles. The final seven points scored by Baker came in garbage time with St. Francis fully in control of the game.

For St. Francis head coach Kevin Donley, it was the culmination of 25 years of work since his last national title. He previously won his first NAIA title with Georgetown (KY) on the same date but 25 years in the past. This was the Cougars first national title after going 0-3 in their previous attempts. Interestingly, this was the 48th different NAIA program to win a national title in the 61 years of existence.

Northwest Missouri State goes back to back in Division II:

Continuing a run of dominance that rivals nearly any program, the Bearcats pulled away with 15 fourth quarter points to cruise to a 29-3 win over the North Alabama Lions.

It was a tough day for the North Alabama offense, facing brutal conditions in Kansas City while also being forced to deal with a dominant Bearcats defense. In the end, UNA turned the ball over three times, sent a snap on a punt into the endzone for a safety, and only managed a total of 22 yards rushing on 33 carries in the loss.

The NWMO run game was the difference in the snowy conditions, earning 226 yards on 40 carries. They have to do things the hard way in never breaking a 20-yard run during the entire game. Their ability to tire out a very talented UNA defense was evident in the fourth quarter with both touchdown drives starting well inside Lions territory. Those two score turned a two-score game into a blowout win.

For the Bearcats, this was the 30th straight win and second straight national title for the program. They had last lost on November 22, 2014 to Minnesota Duluth. Before that was a 15-0 national title-winning season in 2013. The Bearcats are 55-2 in the last four seasons with national titles in 2013, 2015, and 2016.

Mary Hardin-Baylor slips by Wisconsin-Oshkosh for the Division III crown:

With Mount Union and Wisconsin-Whitewater both eliminated earlier in the playoffs, we were guaranteed a battle between two teams looking for their first football national title in school history. Defense ruled and the two teams didn’t disappoint as the Crusaders pulled out a hard-fought 10-7 national title winning victory.

Both teams came into the game ranked among the best in the nation on defense. UMHB also touted an offense that scored nearly 50 points per game in route to a 14-0 record heading into the game. It was the UMHB defense that came up big in holding an impressive UWO offense to only 30 rushing yards on 29 carries. The Titans were never quite able to get anything going on offense, save a 64 yard touchdown drive that benefitted from a 39-yard pass from Brett Kasper to CJ Blackburn to take a 7-0 lead.

After the Cursaders came storming back with the next ten points to take a 10-7 lead, both teams missed out on chances to add to their scorelines. The Titans drove to the UMHB 23-yard line and were promptly picked off by Kaedon Johnson at the goalline to prevent a score. They were again thwarted by the Crusaders defense on an attempt to convert a fourth down at the UHMB 29-yard line. UWO got one more chance after a Crusaders turnover, but failed to move the ball and punted from the UHMB 40-yard line.

With a chance to put the game away, the Crusaders fumbled at the Titans five-yard line and missed a 19-yard field goal to keep the score at 10-7 in their favor. Wisconsin-Oshkosh had one last final shot at winning, but Matt Cody picked off a pass attempt to seal the win.

James Madison ends the reign of North Dakota State:

Jumping out to a 17-0 lead, the James Madison Dukes scored the final 10 points of the game to eek out a 27-17 win over the five-time defending national champion North Dakota State Bison.

The balanced attack that included 242 yards in the air for quarterback Bryan Schor and 180 yards on the ground from running back Khalid Abdullah was too much for the NDSU defense to handle. The Dukes were able to run up 443 yards of total offense in the win.

After falling behind 17-0, the Bison showed the heart of a champion in scoring the next 17 points to tie the game with just over five minutes left in the third quarter. The Bison had a chance to take their first lead of the game on the very next drive, but failed to convert a 49-yard field goal attempt. That missed swung the tide back in favor of James Madison with the road team scoring the next 10 points to pull away for a 27-17 win.

Youngstown State continues Cinderella run with a 40-38 upset win over Eastern Washington:

After missing out on the top eight seeds of the FCS playoffs and being forced to win a title the hard way, Youngstown State pulled out another improbable victory in defeating #2 ranked Eastern Washington 40-38 in snowy Washington.

After a fairly even first quarter, the Eagles looked to take control in the second quarter with touchdowns by Cooper Kupp and Kendrick Bourne to take a 24-10 lead.

That looked to be the case with just under three minutes left in the first half, but the Penguins were able to connect on a 40-yard pass and a 20-yard touchdown run to pull within 24-17 at the half.

After EWU scored once again to take a 31-20 lead, Youngstown State responded with two touchdowns of their own to take their first lead of the game at 34-31. The highly ranked Eagles were unfazed, rolling downfield with ease versus a tired Penguins defense, capped by a one-yard touchdown run to retake the lead at 38-34 with just over four minutes left in the game.

Even in a program with the history of Youngstown State, the ensuing drive will be remembered for a very long time. They Penguins started on their own 42 and methodically drove downfield. They hit a snag at the EWU 30-yard line, facing a third and six.

Quarterback Hunter Wells was able to keep the drive alive with a nine-yard scramble to the 21. Four plays later, the Penguins were down to their last breath. They were at the five-yard line with :06 on the clock and needing a touchdown. Wells slung an ill advised pass to tight end Kevin Rader and this happened.

One second was added to the clock, but the return attempt by EWU was thwarted to give Youngstown State an amazing 40-38 win. The Penguins will face James Madison in the FCS title game.

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