Baker and Melcher are champs again
Winning championships is getting to be a habit for Billy Baker.
Baker played a major role Thursday night as Marian University staged two late rallies to force overtime, then won the NAIA national football championship on a field goal in overtime at Rome, Georgia.
Another Bellmont product, Grant Melcher, contributed as a blocking fullback in Marian's 30-27 victory in an overtime thriller televised nationally by CBS Sports.
Baker, going all the way in the middle of the Marian's defensive line, had several tackles, at least two sacks and recovered a fumble. He pulled off a huge sack on third down late in regulation time which put the Knights within one play of sealing the victory — but Morningside converted on fourth down and went on to score a touchdown.
The Sioux City, Iowa-based school lost its hopes for a perfect season when Michael Josifovski kicked a 26-yard field goal in overtime after Baker and the rest of the Marian defense had halted Morningside on its first possession in overtime.
For Baker, it was a third championship, adding to the state crown Bellmont won in football in 2008 and his individual wrestling championship in early 2009. Melcher also was a standout on the 2008 state champs.
Both players are redshirt juniors, Baker a 6-2, 250-pounder and Melcher going 6-1, 215 pounds.
Melcher was used as a defensive back last season, but a severe ankle injury sidelined him for seven weeks and put him behind on the depth chart. He moved to offense this season, backing up at fullback and playing on special teams.
ROME, Ga. (AP) — Michael Josifovski and the Marian Knights spoiled Morningside’s perfect season.
Josifovski hit a 35-yard field goal on the final play of regulation to force overtime and hit a 26-yarder in the extra session to give Marian (Ind.) a 30-27 victory in the championship game Thursday night.
‘‘I’m disappointed,’’ Morningside coach Ted Ryan said. ‘‘We made some plays down the end to give ourselves a chance to win. I thought we were going to do it. It just didn’t happen.’’
Marian (12-1) won its first national title in only its sixth season of football, while Morningside (13-1) fell short in the Iowa school’s first title game and ninth straight trip to playoffs.
In the semifinals, Josifovski made a 51-yard field goal on the final play for a 20-17 victory over Missouri Valley College.
‘‘He’s got a great leg. We call him ‘Megafoot,’’’ said Marian coach Ted Karras Jr., who had Josifovski kick the winner on third down.
Adam Wiese was 25 of 39 for 233 yards and a touchdown for the Knights, and Tevin Lake rushed for 104 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
Joel Nixon was 22 of 39 for 228 yards and two touchdowns for Morningside, and Fred Jones ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. Nixon also threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.
‘‘The turnovers made a difference, the kicking game made a difference,’’ Ryan said.
Morningside, which had missed an extra point, passed up a field-goal chance on the first possession in overtime, and Marian’s Danny Rojas broke up Nixon’s fourth-and-3 pass to Joel McCabe.
Josifovski made the Mustangs pay, booting the overtime winner on third down.
‘‘It’s an incredible feeling,’’ said the senior. ‘‘You can’t write this stuff. I couldn’t have ever imagined it would end like this. Growing up you hope that you have a chance to play in a game like this.’’
Nixon threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Schuck with 1:04 left to put the Mustangs back on top at 27-24, but Marian marched back down the field to set up Josifovski for the tying 35-yard field goal that forced for the first overtime in the history of the championship.
Marian rallied to take a 24-20 lead on Wiese’s 61-yard touchdown pass to Nathan Jones with 2:46 remaining.
Ryan Harnett’s interception in the end zone for Marian killed what might have been a clinching TD drive for Morningside in the fourth quarter. The Knights then drove 73 yards to cut Morningside’s lead to three on Lake’s 4-yard run with 7:33 remaining.
We were up 20-10, we had that drive, we needed to stick it in the end zone,’’ Ryan said. ‘‘They intercepted the ball, they got a little runback, they got the penalty and they just got life out of that. We had a chance right there to kind of put it away.’’
Morningside drove 78 yards in 13 plays to open the second half, with Jones scoring from a yard out. But the Mustangs missed the extra point — and that proved to be significant.
‘‘We fought as hard as I thought we could,’’ Nixon said. ‘‘I don’t think there was one person that went into that lockerroom that didn’t give it all on the field.
‘‘With it being so close, you’ve got the what-ifs. But you know what, Marian made the plays down the stretch. They’re the deserving team. They got the trophy. They made the plays when they needed to.’’
Morningside led 14-10 at halftime despite two turnovers that turned into points for Marian. Nixon’s fumble deep in his own territory after a scramble set up touchdown for the Knights and they added a field goal after an interception near midfield.
After Jones scored from 9 yards out to cap a 70-yard drive on Morningside’s first possession, Marian got the TD back when Robert Palmer forced a fumble as Nixon tried to avoid a sack and Billy Baker recovered at the 6. Lake ran it in on the next play.
A wild scramble by Nixon paid off for Morningside late in the first quarter when he was able to find McCabe at the back of the end zone on a fourth-down play from the 6 to cap another 70-yard march. Nixon went right, then all the way back across the field to the left before spotting his receiver.
Marian cut into the lead after Nixon’s pass was picked off by Palmer at the Knights 43 midway in the second quarter. Josifovski, who had missed from 54 yards early in the quarter, connected on a 36-yarder with 3:55 left before halftime.
‘‘We have guys that don’t quit,’’ Karras said. ‘‘We’re true believers and we’re pioneers. We started six years ago. We recruit guys that are hungry to play with a never-say-die attitude. They’re quality guys, they take care of business. Last week we did it like this, this week we did it like this. A lot of people probably counted us out with that minute left but we came right back down and tied it up. Couldn’t be more proud of our guys.’’