ROME, Ga. (NAIA) -- Fifth-ranked Marian (Ind.) claimed its first-ever national crown Thursday by winning the 57th annual Russell Athletic-NAIA Football National Championship in overtime, 30-27, over No. 3 Morningside (Iowa) at Rome, Ga.
The Knights, playing in their first-ever national title game, outscored Morningside 20-7 over the final 15 minutes and overtime period en route to the victory.
"We have guys who don't quit," said Marian head coach Ted Karras, Jr. "They're true believers, and a lot of them were pioneers."
Senior Mike Josifovski, who sent Marian to the championship contest with a 51-yard game-winning field goal in the semifinals Dec. 1 at No. 2 Missouri Valley (20-17), again played hero by converting a 35-yard field goal attempt as time expired to send the contest into the first overtime period in the 57-year history of the national championship.
The Knight defense held strong in Morningside's overtime opportunity, setting up Josifovski for another game-winning attempt. He again did not disappoint, splitting the uprights on a 26-yard game-winning field goal. Josifovski was named "outstanding offensive player of the game" for his performance.
The Morningside offense seized control early, marching 70 yards on its opening possession to take a 7-0 lead at the 10:25 mark of the first quarter. The drive was capped by Fred Jones' 10-yard touchdown run, his first of two scores on the evening.
Marian (12-1) capitalized on a Mustang turnover to tie the score, 7-7. However, Morningside responded with its second 70-yard scoring drive of the first quarter when Joel Nixon found Joel McCabe on a 6-yard touchdown pass.
Josifovski nailed a 36-yard field goal with 3:55 left in the first half to make cut the Knights' deficit to 14-10 at the break.
Morningside (13-1) again drew first blood with its third 70-plus drive of the contest to open the second half. Jones, who ran for more than100 yards for the first time this season, tallied his second touchdown on a 1-yard dive. After David Galloway missed the PAT, Morningside held a 20-10 advantage.
Marian pulled within three, 20-17, two minutes later when Tevin Lake found the end zone for the second time on a 4-yard run with 7:33 left in regulation. That score capped the team's longest drive of the game, 88 yards on 11 plays.
The Knights took their first lead of the contest with 2:46 remaining, 24-20, when Adam Wiese tossed his only touchdown pass of the evening on a 61-yard strike to Nathan Jones. It was Wiese's 29th touchdown pass of the season and 52nd of his career.
Faced with a fourth-and-15 on its own 44 yard-line, the game began to look in doubt for the Mustangs. However, Nixon, who completed 22-of-39 passes for 228 yards, found Kyle Schuck with a 35-yard pass to give Morningside a first down with the ball on the Marian 21.
Morningside, aided by a pass interference penalty, scored two plays later when Nixon connect with a wide-open Shuck in the end zone. The touchdown gave the Mustangs a 27-24 lead with a 1:04 remaining, which proved not enough to withstand Marian's late-game heroics.
Wiese paced the Knights (12-1) with 242 yards of total offense, including 223 through the air. Lake, who notched his ninth 100-yard performance of the season, finished with 104 yards and two touchdowns on 23 attempts.