A week after the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats from Maryville captured the NCAA Division II National Football Championship in Florence, Alabama, the Lindenwood Lions from St. Charles gave it their best shot at bringing a second national title to Missouri in as many weeks, but they came up short in the NAIA title game in Rome, Georgia. The Sioux Falls Cougars from South Dakota, the top-ranked team in the NAIA, downed the third-ranked Lions 25-22 in an exciting back and forth contest played in cool temperatures and under gloomy skies.
The defensive units of both teams came up big in the early going. Sioux Falls got on the board first on a Braden Wieking 41 yard field goal with under a minute to go in the 1st quarter. It was a Cougars’ drive that began on their own 8 yard line. Just prior to the end of the quarter the Cougars picked up 2 more points as Lindenwood quarterback Philip Staback mishandled a snap from his own 5 yard line and fell on the loose ball in the end zone for a safety. The quarter ended with the Cougars up 5-0.
Lindenwood got its first points of the day midway through the 2nd quarter when Staback fired a 19 yard TD pass to Matt Bramow to cap an 11 play, 78 yard scoring drive. Halley Ferrell’s extra point was good and the Lions had narrowed the score fo 8-7 in favor of Sioux Falls.
The Lions took the lead a few minutes later on the team’s next possession as Staback marched Lindenwood down the field for a major, completing a 9 yard touchdown pass to Matt Bramow for his second TD of the day, capping a 3 play, 55 yard drive. The Ferell PAT was good and Lindenwood led 14-8.
The Lindenwood defense came up big as the Cougars were stopped from scoring inside the Lions’ 10 yard line. A 4th down and 1 effort from the 6 was stopped cold with about a minute to go in the half, helping Lindenwood to preserve its 14-8 lead as the teams went to the locker rooms for the half.
Sioux Falls regained the lead on the opening kickoff of the 2nd half as Adam Lopez grabbed the ball at his own 15 and scampered 85 yards to the Lindenwood end zone. Wieking’s extra point attempt was good and the Cougars led by a point, 15-14.
Lindenwood jumped back out in front on its next set of downs as a 7 play, 62 yard drive was capped by a 45 yard touchdown run by Denodus O’Bryant. Quarterback Philip Staback called his own number on a 2 point conversion attempt, which was good, and the Lions led 22-15.
The lead did not last long as Ryan Lowmiller scored on a 2 yard run to put the finishing touches on a 4 play, 26 yard drive. The Wieking PAT evened the score at 22.
As the 3rd quarter drew to a close the Cougars threatened with 3rd down and goal from inside the 10, but Jovan Alexander picked off a pass as he backed into his end zone and the Lions had the ball at their own 20 after stopping another SFU scoring threat. The quarter ended with the Lions and Cougars tied at 22.
Sioux Falls pulled into the lead with just under 10 minutes to go in the 4th quarter as Wieking notched a 42 yard field goal to make the score Cougars 25, Lions, 22.
The Lions had one last shot at getting even as the Lindenwood defense forced a fumble with time running out in the 4th quarter. But the Lions could not convert a fourth down and long, allowing the Cougars to regain possession and run out the clock.
The Lions were the first Missouri-based school to appear in the NAIA Championship Final since William Jewell earned runner-up honors in the Division II Championship in 1982. Missouri Southern captured the NAIA Division II title in 1972. The NAIA ran football championships in two divisions from 1970 through 1996. The Lions end the season at 13-1.