Dec. 16, 2006
Bearcats Fall Short in National Championship, 17-14, to Grand Valley StateFLORENCE, Ala. (Braly Stadium) - (game stats) No. 1 Grand Valley State scored the game-winning touchdown on a Cullen Finnerty four-yard rush early in the fourth quarter and GVSU won its fourth national title in the last five years after escaping with a 17-14 victory over No. 2 Northwest Missouri State this afternoon in front of 7,437 fans. Northwest turned the ball over for the fourth time with less than four minutes remaining in Laker territory and GVSU ran out the clock with two first downs.
"This was a great college football game," said head football coach Mel Tjeerdsma. "Unfortunately for us, we made some mistakes.
"I am proud of our effort. The guys did everything that I asked them to do. Grand Valley did a great job defensively and forced some of our turnovers. Give credit to their quarterback (Cullen) Finnerty…he was the difference."
Sophomore Kendall Wright, who finished with a team-high eight catches for 85 yards, caught a 27-yard pass as Northwest threatened to take the late lead in the fourth quarter. However, Matt Beaty stripped him and Grand Valley recovered at its own 21-yard line.
Northwest had the first chance to score running three plays and making it to the Grand Valley 21 on its first possession. Bill Brechin stymied that opportunity picking off a pass attempt by junior Josh Mathews in the end zone. But, Grand Valley went three and out after the first turnover of the game and Northwest survived.
The Bearcats had great field position after a Grand Valley fumbled snap placed the ball at the 1-yard line. On a third-and-18, Finnerty's pass fell incomplete and after a 33-yard punt, Northwest took over at the GVSU 35-yard line. However, Brechin picked up his second interception of the game five plays later, this time at the 8-yard line, halting another Northwest drive.
GVSU turned Brechin's second pick into three points early in the second quarter. The Lakers hit the board first courtesy of a 30-yard field goal by Todd Carter. But the lead was short-lived after Wright completed his first career pass hitting sophomore Raphael Robinson from 26-yards out to give Northwest a 7-3 lead at the 11:20 mark of the second.
The Lakers put together its second straight 11-play drive, this time ending it on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Finnerty to Eric Fowler, and the Lakers held a 10-7 edge midway through the second quarter. Finnerty gained 33 yards on the ground during the 70-yard scoring drive.
Northwest escaped further damage going into halftime. Defensive lineman Sean Paddock and Ryan Waters converged on Finnerty and knocked the ball loose at the Northwest 41. Senior Kyle Kaiser pounced on the fumble and the Bearcats went into the locker room trailing for the first time this season, 10-7.
After the teams traded punts to open up the second half, Grand Valley long snapper Sean Stevens snapped the ball short to punter Justin Trumble. Trumble picked up the fumble cleanly but did so while kneeling. The play was blown dead at the spot and Northwest took over at the Grand Valley 25. Five plays later, running back Xavier Omon found paydirt from seven yards out and Northwest led 14-10 with seven minutes left in the third.
Winning the field position battle, GVSU's Trumble pinned his punt at the Northwest 2-yard line after the drive stalled at the Northwest 43. The Bearcats were unable to gain a first down, and after a 25-yard punt, GVSU took over at the 36. Finnerty, who became the first opponent rusher to gain over 100 yards in 19 games, scored the game-winner capping a six-play, 36-yard drive.
The Bearcats had two drives end in punts, both in Laker territory, before Wright's fumble.
Mathews went 20-of-32 for 200 yards and three interceptions. He entered the game with six total interceptions in 14 games. Omon finished with his eighth career playoff game over 100 rushing yards. He had 129 on 26 carries and one score. Junior Chris LeFlore led the defense with a career-high seven tackles while senior Thomas Smith had six total stops.
The scrambling Finnerty totaled 115 rushing yards on 22 carries at the quarterback spot and threw for 225 yards on 15-of-33 passing and one touchdown. Eric Fowler finished with 96 yards on seven catches. Defensively, Matt Beaty led all tacklers with 12 stops.
Northwest ends its season at 14-1, wrapping up its second-ever 14-win season.
--Northwest trailed for just the second game all season.
--Grand Valley went for over 300 yards of offense (348), just the fourth opponent this season to do so.
--It was the first three-interception game thrown by Josh Mathews since the playoff loss to Pittsburg State on Nov. 27, 2004.
--RB Xavier Omon rushes for his 25th career 100-yard game; 10th this season; fourth straight overall and eighth of his playoff career.
--The three interceptions thrown ties a playoff-high for Northwest; it has been done four times.
--On the season, Northwest finished with a +12 turnover ratio - tied for the fourth highest amount under coach Tjeerdsma (since 1994).
--With a -2 turnover margin today, Northwest has lost the turnover battle now four times this year.
--After going for seven net yards of offense on its first six plays, Grand Valley went for 188 yards on 32 plays in the first half.
--With GVSU quarterback Cullen Finnerty going for 115 rushing yards, he broke a streak of 18 straight games in which the Northwest defense did not allow a 100-yard rusher.
--With his second quarter sack, Ryan Waters increased his Northwest career record to 24.0 sacks (all games).
--On the season, Northwest has 94 points off of turnovers compared to 44 by the opposition after holding a 7-3 advantage today.
--Northwest totaled a season-high four turnovers - the most since having four against Nebraska-Omaha Sept. 3, 2005.
--The loss snapped a 14-game winning streak, which was fourth longest in school history.
--The 123 rushing yards allowed (net) marked just the fourth time this season an opponent went over the century mark and the first time since Washburn (Oct. 14).
--Northwest falls to 19-9 all-time in 11 seasons of playoff football; 2-2 in neutral settings.
--The Bearcats held a slight advantage in total yardage - the 14th time this season in doing so.
--Grand Valley marked the second opponent this season to score first.
--The Northwest defense failed to post an interception for the second straight game - the defense started the season going 13 in-a-row with at least one interception.
--Josh Mathews failed to throw a touchdown for just the second time this season (0 vs. Southwest Baptist, Nov. 11)
--Chris LeFlore posted a career-high 7 tackles - 2 was his previous high.
--Xavier Omon finished the season with 1,515 yards - the fifth highest total in history (all games).
--Omon added to his school playoff record in rushing touchdowns (15) and rushing yards (1,392).
--E.J. Falkner did not have a reception today - the first time in eight games.
--Second time in National Championship history that team has ended season 15-0 --Northwest did it in 1998 in winning the national title
--Third time that two teams have entered the Championship undefeated - last was in 2002.
--Grand Valley extended nation's (all divisions) longest winning streak to 28 games.
--Grand Valley has been ranked No. 1 in 23 straight polls - there are no new polls in the playoffs.
--Northwest is now 1-4 all-time when playing No. 1 (in AFCA polls) teams - the lone win coming in the 1998 National Championship against Carson-Newman.
--The scoreless first quarter was the first time since 1989
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