Indianapolis, Ind. - An interception in the end zone by freshman strong safety Clayton Fejedelem (Lemont, Ill./Lemont) with eight seconds remaining sealed the deal as No. 5 ranked Saint Xavier University defeated No. 1 Marian University, 30-27, in an epic semifinals game in the 2011 NAIA Football Championship Series Saturday afternoon at St.. Vincent Health Field in Indianapolis. SXU will now make its first ever appearance in the NAIA National Championship game on Saturday, December 17, in Rome, Ga. The game was a classic from start to finish with plenty of momentum-changing plays for both sides. After the game, junior wideout Wes Gastel (Freeport, Ill./Freeport) was named the NAIA Outstanding Player of the Game, while senior defensive end Michael Prosser (Rockton, Ill./Rockton-Hononegah) earned the defensive honor.
Gastel finished with a team-best six catches for 109 yards and the go-ahead touchdown with 13:01 left in the fourth quarter. Junior quarterback Jimmy Coy (Park Ridge, Ill./Valdosta State University/El Camino College/Maine South) also had a huge game offensively for the Cougars with 287 yards and three touchdowns on 25-for-33 passing. Defensively, Prosser led the way with 16 total tackles (six solos), including a half a tackle for a one-yard loss and a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter. Junior wide receivers Shane Zackery (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) and Corey Wennmacher (Belvidere, Ill./Belvidere North) also each had receiving touchdowns Saturday for SXU. Against the NAIA's No. 1 defense, Saint Xavier stood tall scoring 20 points in the second half on a team that came into Saturday's game having only allowed 66 points all year (5.5 points per game). SXU also beat the odds as the road team Saturday with the visitors having only won three semifinal games since 2000 (19-3 record for the home team).
The Knights took the early lead in Saturday's game when junior kicker Mike Josifovski hit a 20-yard field goal with 2:54 left in the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, Saint Xavier took the lead, 7-3, when Prosser stepped in front of a pass by junior quarterback Adam Wiese and took it 28 yards to the end zone. Marian answered right back with a eight-play, 59-yard drive capped by a 20-yard touchdown pass by Wiese to sophomore wide receiver Nick Zachery to go ahead, 10-7, with 6:53 remaining before halftime. Senior kicker Tom Lynch (Frankfort, Ill./Southern Illinois University/Joliet Junior College/Lincoln-Way East) tied things up with a 21-yard field goal at the 2:23 mark of the second quarter. The game remained tied at 10-10 at the half, but SXU wasted no time taking the lead early in the second half. Following a bad punt out of bounds by the Knights, Coy needed just one play to hit Wennmacher for a 25-yard touchdown strike. However, SXU missed the extra-point attempt and led 16-10 with 12:16 remaining in the third quarter.
Marian came right back and used just two plays to take back the lead, 17-16, on a 76-yard touchdown pass by Wiese to junior wideout Oluwatosin Ikudabo. Zackery found the end zone on a seven-yard pass from Coy late in the third quarter to cap a nine-play, 65-yard drive and give the Cougars the 23-17 advantage. The Knights responded quickly again using a big 69-yard reception by freshman running back Tevin Lake to get inside the 10-yard line and eventually scored on a two-yard run by senior running back Nick Bradford to go ahead, 24-23. Early in the fourth quarter, Coy hit Gastel from 13 yards out to cap a nine-play drive and giving the Cougars a 30-24 edge. Marian would cut the lead to three points, 30-27, with a 43-yard field goal by Josifovski with 10:47 to play, but the SXU defense would keep the home team off the scoreboard in the closing minutes. The Knights had a first and goal from the one-yard line with under a minute to play, but a bad snap and an illegal procedure penalty pushed the ball back to the 11-yard line with 18 seconds left. On third and goal from the 11-yard line, Wiese threw a pass to the corner of the end zone and Fejedelem tipped the ball up in the air and then came down with it in bounds to secure the victory.
Saint Xavier (13-1 overall/4-1 MSFA) heads to Rome, Ga., on Saturday, December 17, for the school's first national championship berth. The national championship game is scheduled for a 4:30 p.m. (eastern) at Barron Stadium in Rome. The game will be televised live on CBS Sports Television.