USF Cougars Win First NAIA National Football Championship in Convincing Fashion
December 18, 2016
The banner comes 25 years to the day since the Cougars’ Hall of Fame head coach Kevin Donley won his first career title while at Georgetown (Ky.) in 1981.
“It’d been 25 years since I’ve won one, and I sure as heck didn’t want to wait another 25,” said Donley, cracking a smile. “The last couple weeks I’ve had people ask me what makes this team so special. It’s unique people that care about each other. They love each other, and they have a passion for the game. There was a tremendous commitment from these guys for the last 11 months to get to this point today.”
Coate finished with nine catches for 180 yards and three touchdowns. With the three scores, the Fort Wayne, Ind., native set the NAIA’s single-season receiving touchdowns record (25). Coate was named the National Championship’s Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game.
Cougar quarterback Nick Ferrer, who threw for only 63 yards in the first half, ended the game with 245 passing yards and three touchdowns – the 10th time he’s thrown for three-or-more scores. He completed 18-of-30 throws and was not intercepted for the eighth-straight contest.
USF defensive lineman Lucas Sparks was named the Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game. He tallied six tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Sparks also forced and recovered a fumble.
Outside of the game’s opening drive, which resulted in a 25-yard Clarence Clark field goal, the Cougars controlled the tempo during the game’s opening 30 minutes en route to a 17-3 lead at the break. The Cougars held an 18:46 to 11:14 advantage in time of possession, and a 206-132 lead in total yards in the first half.
USF took the lead on its first drive of the game when Ferrer ended a seven-play, 56-yard drive with a 5-yard fade to Coate. The score extended Coate’s NAIA record consecutive touchdown streak to 27 games – a standard previously held by Greg Thomas of Clinch Valley (Va.) (23 consecutive).
The Cougars added to their lead late in the first quarter, 10-3, on a season-best and USF record 44-yard field goal by Ryan Nix.
Justin Green put the Cougars up by 14 when he scampered 39 yards to pay turf after Sparks recovered a BU fumble at the Wildcats 39 with 2:04 to play in the half.
BU cut the deficit to 17-10 with 6:35 left in the third quarter when quarterback Logan Brettell linked up with a diving Damon Nolan for a 13-yard touchdown strike.
However, USF responded with a pair of touchdown passes from Ferrer to Coate on back-to-back possessions to seize complete control of the game, 31-10, with a little over 12 minutes remaining. The first score was a game-high 59-yard scoring strike, followed by a 36-yarder after a Baker punt.
The two teams traded touchdowns over the course of the final four minutes with Baker’s Cornell Brown bursting through the pile for a 1-yard score before P.J. Dean of USF scampered 28 yards for the finishing touch.
The championship win capped off a season which also saw Coach Kevin Donley win his 300th game and be named the NAIA Regional Coach of the Year. The university invites you to celebrate this remarkable season with us on Thursday, January 19 at 1 p.m. in the Hutzell Athletic Center. The USF community will come together to recognize our coaches and players who brought the first national football championship to the University of Saint Francis.