By Alan Paape
The St. Xavier Cougars were only one win away from punching their ticket back to Rome, Georgia for the NAIA National Title game. The team that the Cougars had to conquer this past Saturday was the Morningside College Mustangs.
The Cougars have reached the NAIA Semifinals in each of the previous three seasons leading up to this year.
In the 2009 season, the Cougars traveled to the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota, and lost that game 48-6. In 2010, the Cougars traveled to Helena, Montana to take on Carroll College in a game that they would end up losing 27-5.
In 2011, the Cougars finally conquered the NAIA Semifinals hurdle with a 30-27 victory over Marian University, in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Coming into the game, Morningside College was ranked number three in the nation with a perfect 12-0 record. On their way to the Semifinals, the Mustangs beat Montana Tech University 40-35, and Southern Oregon University 47-44 in overtime.
The Cougars came in to their Semifinal matchup ranked number four in the nation with an 11-1 record. The Cougars cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs with a 31-0 victory over William Penn University, and a 35-21 victory over the University of theCumberlands.
The Cougars also entered this matchup with a perfect 5-0 record on the road this season.
If the Cougars wanted to go on to win this game, they would have to limit the Mustangs offense which has averaged over 45 points a game. The Mustangs offensive attack has been led all season by senior quarterback Joel Nixon who has averaged 278 passing yards per game, just under 60 rushing yards per game, as well as tallying a total of 57 all purpose touchdowns on the season.
Two other big names on the Mustangs offense were receivers Joel McCabe, and Kyle Schuck who on the season have combined for an average of 170 receiving yards per game, and a total of 26 receiving touchdowns.
To begin the game the Cougars won the opening coin toss and elected to receive the ball. In each of their previous two playoff games this season the Cougars began the game on offense and were able to produce points on each opening drive.
This time would be no different. After driving 30-yards on six plays, the Cougars were faced with an early third and long situation from the Morningside 41-yard line. On the third down play Jimmy Coy was able to elude the pressure of the Mustang Defense and throw up a bomb down the left sideline which found Chase Catton for a 41-yard touchdown pass.
The Mustangs would not let the Cougars hold on to the lead for very long though. On their very first offensive possession the Mustangs drove down the field with ease. Less than three minutes after the Cougars took the lead the Mustangs tied up the game on a seven yard touchdown run by Fred Jones, which capped off an eight play 78-yard drive.
On the very next play for the Cougar offense Coy dropped back to pass and his pass was intercepted by defensive back Jared Goforth and returned to the Cougar 36-yard line.
Once again it would not take long for the Mustang offense to put more points back on the board after the turnover. On the third play following the turnover Joel Nixon found Joel McCabe in the end zone for a four yard touchdown pass. The Mustangs now led 14-7.
The Cougar offense looked to keep pace with the Mustang offense on their very next possession, but after moving inside the Morningside ten yard line the Cougars drive stalled and they were only able to gain one yard on three plays and were forced to settle for a field goal to pull themselves within four points.
After scoring two touchdowns on their first two offensive possessions of the game, the Mustangs looked to continue their offensive dominance. The Cougar defense still was not able to figure out the Mustang offense, and the Mustangs drove right down the field and scored a touchdown which capped off a seven play 65-yard drive.
This touchdown was Joel Nixon’s second touchdown pass in as many drives, and the Mustangs now led 21-10.
The Cougars offense would be able to score one more time before the end of the first quarter when Coy capped off a seven play 72-yard scoring drive with an eight yard touchdown pass to Wes Gastel. After the ensuing extra point attempt failed, the score at the end of the first quarter was 21-16 in favor of the Mustangs.
After the first quarter of play Morningside’s offense did not cool off, they came out in the second quarter and continued scoring right where they left off in the first quarter of play. On a third and 23 play, Joel Nixon was able to step up in the pocket and throw a deep pass downfield which was hauled in by Colby Henderson for a 44-yard touchdown reception.
Morningside would now take their biggest lead of the day so far, eleven points, 27-16.
The Cougars offense would only be able to muster up a late field goal towards the end of the second quarter to cut the deficit to only eight points. At the half the Cougars trailed the Mustangs 27-19.
The second half of play was dominated by the Mustangs from the start. On their very first possession of the second half the Mustangs put another touchdown up on the board. Fred Jones was able to punch in the ball from three yards out and the Mustang lead grew to 34-19.
Throughout the rest of the game the Cougars offense failed to produce any points offensively and the Mustangs’ offense continued to keep their foot on the gas pedal. The Mustangs would go on to add two more touchdowns and the game would end by the score Morningside College- 47, St. Xavier University- 19.
With the win Morningside University advances to the NAIA National Title to face Marian University on December 13 in Rome, Georgia.
The Cougars finished the season with an 11-2 record, and a share of the MSFA Mideast League title with a 4-1 Conference record.
Jimmy Coy led the team in passing with 3,427 passing yards, 35 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions, and Coy also had 229 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown. He also finishes his career at 25-2 overall.
Nick Pesek led the team in rushing with 1,125 rushing yards, and eight rushing touchdowns. Shane Zackery led the Cougars in total receptions with 80 receptions, Zackery also led the team with 1,122 receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns.
Defensively Zach Dolph led the team in tackles with 128 total tackles, and 19 tackles for a loss, Greg Hayward led the Cougars with seven sacks, and Jeremy Rhodes led the team with six interceptions.
Next Season the Cougars will return four offensive starters and five defensive starters.