DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (WANE) – It what was expected to be a high-scoring affair, the fourth-ranked St. Francis Cougars defeated No. 2 Baker 38-17 at Municipal Stadium Saturday night to claim the 2016 NAIA Football National Championship.
Baker took the opening possession quickly down the field but were unable to find the endzone. The Wildcats took a 3-0 lead on a 26-yard field goal by Clarence Clark.
USF responded in Baker territory by going for it on 4th-and-1. Jason Nicodemus ran 45 yards to the Baker 2-yard line. The drive ended with a touchdown catch by Seth Coate from Nick Ferrer.
The Cougars defense locked down as Baker was forced to punt on its next four possessions.
Ryan Nix hit a 44-yard field goal to put USF up 10-3 late in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, USF forced a fumble on Baker quarterback Logan Brettell in their own territory. On the first play of the drive for USF Justin Green ripped off a 39-yard run to put the Cougars up 17-3.
On Baker’s second possession of the third quarter Brettell found Damon Nolan for a touchdown. That cut the St. Francis lead to seven.
Late in the third, Ferrer would find Coate for the second time of the day on a 59-yard play-action pass. Coate was wide open and made a nice stiff arm on a Baker defender at the 10-yard line before getting into the endzone. The score put the Cougars up 24-10 with 44 seconds to play in the third quarter.
In the fourth, Ferrer found Coate again for a touchdown. It was Ferrer’s third touchdown of the night and Coate was on the receiving end of all of them. The Cougars took a 21 point lead with 12 minutes to play.
Under ten minutes, Baker was quickly driving and in the red zone when they fumbled near the 10-yard line. USF recovered the fumble.
Baker would score on a 1-yard run late in the fourth to cut the lead to 14.
But with less than three minutes to play, P.J. Dean would scamper into the endzone to push the lead back to 21.
The win is the first national title for the USF program.
Coate was named the NAIA National Player of the Game.
This is the third overall national championship for St. Francis. The men’s basketball team won in 2010 and the women’s basketball team won in 2014.
USF announced Saturday night the team will return to Fort Wayne Sunday at 4:15 p.m. The public is invited to welcome them back at the Aero Center, 4401 Altitude Drive. A larger celebration on campus will take place next month.