Statistics don’t always tell the true nature of a football game — chunks of yardage can be gained at the end of the first half or at the end of a lopsided game.
However, the final stats in the Division II Football Championship game December 16 between Grand Valley State and Northwest Missouri State did tell how evenly the finalists were matched.
At the final gun, Northwest Missouri State held a 350-348 advantage in total offense, but the Lakers held the most important advantage on the scoreboard that showed the defending national champions as 17-14 victors in front of 7,437 in Braly Stadium in Florence, Alabama.
Grand Valley’s repeat title also was the program’s fourth national championship in the last five years. The Lakers won back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003. It’s also the second straight year they defeated Northwest Missouri State in the final.
While the final offensive numbers were close, one area in which Grand Valley State held a significant edge was in turnovers. The Lakers forced four miscues, including two interceptions by junior cornerback Bill Brechin that thwarted promising Northwest Missouri State drives.
On the game’s first drive, Brechin intercepted Northwest Missouri State quarterback Josh Mathews in the end zone. Brechin’s second pick came at his team’s own 7-yard line later in the opening quarter.
In the third quarter, Brechin downed a punt at the Bearcats’ 2-yard line where the Lakers forced a three-and-out series and set up what proved to be the game’s winning drive.
"Bill Brechin made four game-changing plays, and those two first-quarter interceptions kept us in the game," said Grand Valley State coach Chuck Martin, whose team finished 15-0.
Grand Valley State took over at the Northwest Missouri State 36-yard line after forcing the Bearcats to punt out of their own end zone.
Lakers quarterback Cullen Finnerty, who made his third start in a national title game, scored the winning touchdown on a 4-yard run with 13:06 remaining in the game.
Finnerty finished the game with 225 yards passing and 115 yards rushing on 22 carries.
"He ran the ball like the absolute warrior that he is," Martin said. "Thank goodness we’ve had him for four years … he’s going to be sorely missed."
Brechin’s second interception set up the game’s first score. Grand Valley State drove 67 yards in 11 plays, ending with a 30-yard field goal by Todd Carter. It marked only the second time all season that Northwest Missouri State trailed.
The Bearcats didn’t stay behind long, though, taking the lead on the ensuing possession. Raphael Robinson caught a 26-yard scoring pass from fellow receiver Kendall Wright to give Northwest Missouri State a 7-3 lead with 11:20 left in the second quarter.
Grand Valley State retook the lead on a 2-yard pass from Finnerty to Eric Fowler.
Finnerty ran for 33 yards and completed three passes for 37 during the drive that gave Grand Valley State a 10-7 lead at the intermission.
Northwest Missouri State, 14-1, reclaimed the momentum in the third quarter, thanks to a low snap that forced Grand Valley State punter Justin Trumble to field the ball while his knee was on the ground.
The play was blown dead at the Lakers’ 25-yard line and Xavier Omon ended the short drive with a 7-yard touchdown run.
Finnerty and the Lakers defense took over the rest of the way.
"This was a great college football game," said Northwest Missouri State coach Mel Tjeerdsma. "Unfortunately for us, we made some mistakes. I am proud of our effort. The guys did everything I asked them to do. Grand Valley did a great job defensively and forced some of our turnovers. Give credit to their quarterback Finnerty … he was the difference."
Finnerty, who is the first player to gain over 100 yards against the Bearcats in 18 games, was ecstatic to play a key role in three of the Lakers’ four national championships to date.
"It’s unbelievable," he said. "I couldn’t write it any better than this."
0 10 0 7 — 17 0 7 7 0 — 14
7 — 17
0 — 14
GVS — Todd Carter 30 field goal, 14:46.
NMS — Raphael Robinson 26 pass from Kendall Wright (Tommy Frevert kick), 11:20.
GVS — Eric Fowler 2 pass from Cullen Finnerty (Carter kick), 7:06.
NMS — Xavier Omon 7 run (Frevert kick), 7:00.
GV — Finnerty 4 run (Carter kick), 13:06.
Announced attendance: 7,437.
First downs 19 21 Rushes-yards 38-123 29-12 Passing 225 226 Comp.-Att.-Int. 15-33-0 21-33-3 Return yards 78 27 Punts-Avg. 5-33.0 5-33.0 Fumbles-Lost 3-2 1-1 Penalties-Yards 6-35 3-20 Time of possession 32:33 27:27
Time of possession
Passing: Grand Valley St. — Cullen Finnerty 15-33-0-225. Northwest Mo. St. — Josh Mathews 20-32-3-200, Kendall Wright 1-1-0-26.
Receiving: Grand Valley St. — Eric Fowler 7-96, Terry Mitchell 2-55, Antione Trent 2-24, John Mathews 2-14, Sean Stevens 1-19, Preston Garris 1-17. Northwest Mo. St. — Kendall Wright 8-85, Raphael Robinson. 4-60, Mike Peterson 4-39, Abe Qaoud 3-24, Xavier Omon 2-18.