|Bears Looking For First National Title|
|Written by Staff Reports|
|Saturday, 21 December 2013 00:15|
The Lenoir-Rhyne Football Team (13-1) will take on Northwest Missouri State (14-0) in the 2013 NCAA Division II National Championship Saturday at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Ala., beginning at
The game will be broadcasted live on ESPN2. The game can be heard regionally on KICKS 103 FM beginning at 11 a.m. The Bears are ranked No. 13 in the nation while the Bearcats are No. 2 in NCAA Division II.
Both teams were the top seeds in their respective regions when the playoffs began with each school winning three home contests to punch their ticket to the national championship.
In the semifinals last Saturday, Lenoir-Rhyne defeated West Chester by a 42-14 score while Northwest Missouri State downed Grand Valley State, 27-13.
Lenoir-Rhyne enters the game as the top-ranked team in D-II in rushing offense at 377.9 yards per contest. L-R, with 5,290 total rushing yards on the year, is just 31 yards away from breaking the all-time NCAA Division II rushing record for yards in a season.
Junior fullback Isaiah Whitaker (Salisbury, N.C.) and junior tailback Jarrod Spears (Bunnlevel, N.C.) lead the ground game with 908 and 876 yards, respectively, for the Bears. The duo has also combined for 17 touchdowns rushing.
Anchoring the unit up front is sophomore offensive tackle Joe Ray (Atlanta, Ga.), the Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner which is given annually to the top offensive lineman in the South Atlantic Conference. Ray has been named to three All-American Teams this fall: Beyond Sports Network, Daktronics and the Associated Press Little.
The defense, which is seventh in scoring defense (16.1 ppg) and ninth in sacks (3.4 spg) nationally, is led by senior free safety Michael Green (Kingsland, Ga.). Like Ray, Green has been named to three D-II All-American teams - BSN, Daktronics and Little AP - and is third on the team in tackles with 85 to go along with eight interceptions including three returned for scores.
L-R junior linebacker Tanner Botts (Lawrenceville, Ga.) leads the team in tackles with 126 for the second straight year while junior defensive lineman Blake Baker (Bethlehem, N.C.) has 52 takedowns and 12.5 quarterback sacks. Both players have earned All-American honors while Baker was a finalist for the Gene Upshaw Award, given annually to the top offensive or defensive lineman in Division II.
On special teams, Lenoir-Rhyne senior placekicker Zach Neumann (Mechanicsville, Md.) is an all-conference, all-region and All-American this year. Neumann broke his own school record for points in a season with 97 and has connected on 14 field goals this year.
Lenoir-Rhyne is making its fourth trip to the national championship game in school history. L-R made the NAIA Finals in 1959, 1960 and 1962, and won the title in 1960.
Northwest Missouri State is making its record eighth appearance in the NCAA Division II Football Championship with victories coming in 1998, 1999 and 2009.
The Bearcats average 45.4 points per game and 484.9 yards of total offense per contest. Northwest Missouri State uses two quarterbacks, Trevor Adams (2,788 yards passing) and Brady Bolles (1,119 yards), while the duo combined has 34 touchdown passes. Adams ranks first in the nation in pass efficiency (192.5) and completion percentage (73.7) as well.
Northwest Missouri State is led on the ground by Robert Burton (775 yards) and Billy Creason (725 yards) while Reuben Thomas is the top wide receiver with 61 receptions for 933 yards and eight scores.
On defense, lineman Matt Longacre is considered one of the top defensive players in the nation with 54 tackles including 19.5 for a loss while D.J. Gnader (99 takedowns) is the team's top tackler. The Bearcats are eighth in the nation in scoring defense at 16.5 points per contest.
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