Saint Francis Wins Second-Consecutive Championship

December 16, 2017
By Alan Grosbach, NAIA Associate Director of Athletic Communication

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Cougars running back Justin Green raced for a game-high 144 rushing yards and two touchdowns to lead top-ranked Saint Francis (Ind.) to a second-straight national title with a 24-13 victory over No. 2 Reinhardt (Ga.) Saturday in the 2017 NAIA Football National Championship at Municipal Stadium.

The Cougars (14-0) are the first team since former member Sioux Falls (S.D.) (2008, 2009) to win back-to-back titles and extend their FCS winning streak to eight-straight. The win is also Saint Francis’ 23rd-straight in all competitions.

Saint Francis scored 17 of their 24 points in the first quarter, which proved to be the difference in the game. The quarter was highlighted by an 80-yard touchdown run by Green – his longest play from scrimmage this season.

Green – the 2017 national championship Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game cemented himself as one of the best running backs in NAIA Football Championship Series History. With his 144-yard effort, the Griffith, Ind., native now owns 2,027 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns in 11 career playoff games.

Defensive Outstanding Player of the Game honors went to the Cougars’ Eric Dunten. The junior linebacker ended the night with 17 tackles, including 0.5 tackles for loss.

Reinhardt (12-1) was appearing in the title game for the first time in program history. The Eagles are in only their fifth season as a varsity program.

Game Notes
• The consecutive national championship titles is a first for an NAIA program since former member Sioux Falls (S.D.) accomplished the feat in 2008 and 2009.
• Offensive Game MVP Justin Green finished with 144 rushing yards for his 11th 100-yard game of the season and fifth-straight. The junior from Griffith, Ind., eclipsed 100 yards with less than 18 minutes gone by in the game. Green posted 140 yards on 24 carries in the 2016 championship.
• Green’s 80-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter – his 28th on the year – was the longest rushing play from scrimmage in the NAIA Football Championship since 2010 when Carroll’s (Mont.) Gary Wagner went 83 yards.
• Quarterback Nick Ferrer of Saint Francis Completed 19 passes to eight different receivers.
• Defensive Most Outstanding Player Eric Dunten of Saint Francis recorded 17 total stops, and assisted on a sack.
• The 17-0 first-quarter lead by Saint Francis is the largest after one stanza since Southern Oregon held a 24-7 advantage against Marian (Ind.) in the 2014 event.
• Saint Francis, with a 24-7 halftime lead, becomes the fifth-straight team to win the title game holding a halftime advantage.
• In the first quarter, Reinhardt fumbled twice and lost both. That ties the most fumbles lost in a game since 2014 when Marian (Ind.) coughed it up four times and lost it twice.
• Thirteen points is the fewest points scored in a game in program history. The Eagles averaged 46.2 points per game, raking sixth in the NAIA this year.
• Twelve different players recorded at least one rushing attempt.
• The 243 team rushing yards by the Eagles were the most in a championship game since Cumberlands (Ky.) in 2013, which lost to Grand View (Iowa).
• Reinhardt was held to 47 passing yards, the fewest in a title game since 2007.
• The team to score first has now won the last 11 championship games.
• No. 1 ranked Saint Francis bucks a recent trend becoming just the third higher-ranked team to win the red banner in the last 12 years.
• Saint Francis has now defeated Reinhardt three-straight times in the NAIA playoffs, including last year’s semifinal victory.
• Six of the last seven national champions have come from the Mid-States Football Association – Saint Xavier (Ill.) (2011), Marian (2012, 2015), Grand View (2013) and Saint Francis (2016, 2017).
• Saint Francis entered the national championship ranked No. 1, while Reinhardt was at No. 2 in the final regular-season edition of the NAIA Football Coaches’ Top 25 Poll. This was the first time since 2013 that the top two teams met in the banner game.
• The Cougars – now winners of eight-straight FCS games – end the season on a 23-game winning streak. The Cougars have not lost since October 1, 2016. The all-time NAIA record is 42-straight wins done by Sioux Falls from 2008-10.
• Saint Francis head coach Kevin Donley is the winningest coach in NAIA football history with a 316-129-1 record in 39 years. He is the only NAIA coach to eclipse the 300-win plateau.
• Reinhardt, which ended its fifth season as a varsity program, was the youngest team to reach the national championship since Grand View (Iowa) played in the 2013 championship – the Vikings’ sixth season as a varsity program.

Saint Francis Quotes
Coach Kevin Donnelly
Defending a championship as opposed to chasing one.
“At our awards banquet last year, our Mayor said you think this one was difficult, wait til 2017, because the target will be on your back in the regular season, you’ll face tough competition in the postseason, and we did. This is my 39th season as a college head coach, this is my first 14-0. It’s very special for me that these guys were that. They are special kids. Nick Ferrer was something special- great quarterback, great leader, great person. I hail to my players.”

What else he’d like to accomplish
“It’s not just the game. It’s these guys. They’re the reason why you’re excited to get up every day. It’s the challenge. You want to win every game and win national championships, but my heart does real well when I’m around guys like this.”

On trying to win three-in-a-row.
“It’s quite a challenge. At the same time, they have in the back of their mind, can we do it? They’re motivated to do it. But what’s really in the back of their mind is they’re not sure. I felt that just the demeanor in being around them this week that they’re trying to talk themselves into it.”

Quarterback Nick Ferrer (Sr.)
Being back-to-back National Champions.
“It’s unbelievable. A great way to wrap up a collegiate career. As far as Player of the Year is concerned, I owe all that to my teammates, my coaches, Coach Donnelly. We owe everything to him as players, and I’ve been blessed to have great players around me. It’s definitely a sweet feeling to leave a legacy like this at Saint Francis; not a lot of teams have done this in the NAIA. To leave this as our lasting legacy as seniors, is incredible.

The change with the injuries at receiver.
“It was a big part of our game plan to use Duke Blackwell and Sean Boswell. Reinhardt has really good corners. We thought going in we could attack their zone in the middle and attack their safeties and their under coverage. We were rotating outside receivers at inside receiver and basically telling them what to do. Is it tough? Yeah, but we’ve been through it. We’ve been through adversity so many times the last two years and we’ve always found away. At the press conference the other day, Coach D said one word to describe your team was resilient. I believe that’s true. No matter what, we find a way to win.”

Running back Justin Green (Jr.)
If this year’s championship was different than last year’s.
“Coach Donnelly talked about how we were going to have a target on our back all season and we did. We had a tough schedule and played a lot of ranked teams. It definitely feels different, we had to work harder and not get complacent, be humble and take care of business.”

On his 80-yard touchdown run.
“It was a momentum shifter. The play was actually an A-gap play and it ended up breaking outside. Will Chrisman had a great block on the edge which allowed me to get 80 yards.”

On the team’s confidence despite facing the No. 1 defense.
“I feel like we have great team chemistry. We don’t really look at each other as teammates, we see each other as brothers. Coach Donnelly always challenges us. We can never get complacent and makes us stay humble. With the leader we have and the will to work harder, I just felt like nobody could stop us.”

The fumble during the first drive.
“Me and Nick Ferrer had a bad mesh on an outside stretch play and it ended up hitting my elbow. Tevin McCoy picked it up. He’s a defensive player, so he doesn’t really know how to carry the ball, so I just saw the ball and punched it and it came out. Luckily, we recovered it.”

The second half struggles.
“They’re a great football team. I was lucky to break a few long ones on them. My offensive line played a great game today and we got the job done.”

The progress of the program since joining.
“I think with the 6-5 season, don’t think everyone was all in. With the following years, Coach Donnelly, preached all in and doing what we’re supposed to do.”

Linebacker Eric Dunten (Jr.)
Facing the No. 1 defense on the other sideline.
“We always say give everything you’ve got and give 110% every play because you never know when it’s your last. We were just harping on that and we’d come out successful. I’m proud of my teammates and what we’ve been able to do. What people don’t see is the work we put in during the offseason. There’s many months of hard work and getting a little bigger and a little faster.”

The future of the program and returning to the championship.
We have people that are backing up the seniors that are leaving. Next year is a new team, new environment and we just have to keep putting in work in the offseason.”

Facing the No. 1 rush offense.
“We know they are a great rushing team, and our goal was to hold them to one phase of the game, and if we eliminate the run, and force them to pass, that’s not their strong suit.”

Reinhardt Postgame Quotes
Coach James Miller
Opening thoughts on the game.
“Offensively, we were making mistakes, couldn’t protect the quarterback very well, I thought we were running the football pretty well, but weren’t protecting the quarterback like we needed to. The kids played their hearts out, they left it all on the field and that’s all I can ask.”

On making it to the championship in the fifth year of the program.
“It’s a testament to these guys, our seniors, they put all the work in. It’s been a culmination of a lot of things. It makes it tough when it doesn’t work out for you. These guys can hold their heads high, they put a lot of work into it and it really paid off.”

How the game goes without the early fumbles.
“I think it goes differently. I think if we don’t miss the field goal early, it makes a difference. To be honest, I probably could have done a better job kicking it at the end instead of going for it. It would have been an eight (point) game and we would have had some more time on the clock and an onside kick. We didn’t execute well enough, we didn’t play good enough to win the game. Hats off to Saint Francis, they have a great program, Coach Donnelly does a great job, their kids play really hard, and they have some special players on offense that can really be tough to stop.”

On the defense in the second half.
“Our defense played lights-out. We made some slight adjustments, but I think we played better. We tackled better, kids were playing faster. They just did a better job. Offensively, we kept sputtering. The big thing we emphasize is in the red zone, we have to score. We had two or three trips to the red zone when we didn’t get any points. Really, this game comes down to goal line and short yardage and guys making plays, and we didn’t do either one tonight.”

Safety Marcus Miller (Sr.)
On the difference in tonight’s game between the rest of the season.
“I think we just got outplayed on both sides of the ball. We just didn’t execute like we were supposed to.”

On the development of the program.
“Obviously, we’ve definitely improved over the last five years. Just a testimony to all the hard work we put in. Now that we’ve gotten here, we’ve set a standard for future Reinhardt football players.”

On the biggest difference between the program now and the first game.
“Team chemistry. It’s more of a brotherhood we have now. Everybody loves everybody.”

Running back Stanlee Logue (Jr.)
On where the program stands now.
“The year before I got (to Reinhardt), they didn’t even make the playoffs, my freshman year, made the playoffs and lost to Saint Francis, the following year we found ourselves and made it a little further. This year, we had a lot to play for. Everyone in the program has developed a lot more. Coach Miller came in this year and did a lot for us, and couldn’t have asked for a better season, just tonight was a bad night.”

On the difference in tonight’s game between the rest of the season.
“They were just making plays and we weren’t. The last game we played was really the only other time we were challenged like that. We were ready, we just didn’t take advantage of our opportunities.”

On the biggest difference between the program now and the first game.
“We have people from all walks of life, and have gone through a lot of adversity, and we’ve really come together as one. I feel like that was our extra drive this season that other teams haven’t had. We have experienced players that have been playing since they were freshman, and we all came together and fought till the end.”