Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Game Day:
Marian Knights reach NAIA semifinals

My "unofficial" tour of Indiana small-college campuses on football Game Day this fall took me last weekend to Marian University right here in Indianapolis. The undefeated and No. 1-ranked (in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) Marian Knights hosted an NAIA postseason tournament quarterfinal game against the University of St. Francis, Joliet, Ill.

The game was no contest; the Knights ran away with a 49-7 victory, as Tevin Lake rushed for 176 yards and three touchdowns, receiver Julian Williams caught two of quarterback Adam Wiese's three touchdown passes, and defender Eric Sheppard made nine tackles and two interceptions. A Fighting Saints touchdown in the closing minutes prevented the vaunted Knights' defense from registering its sixth shutout of the season.

In the lead photo at the top of this post, Lake (10) is shown scoring on his first touchdown, a 9-yard run in the second quarter that gave Marian a 14-0 lead.

Fireworks filled the sky in the celebration afterward, the first time I'd seen anything like that happen at a college football game. But the Knights probably had cause for celebration, with this being their fifth year of fielding a football team -- and their third on the relatively new St. Vincent Health Field -- at the small school near the White River on the Westside of Indianapolis.

Marian (12-0) will host St. Xavier University of Chicago in a semifinal game Saturday at 1 p.m. The game will be a rematch of a Nov. 5 contest, also at Marian, in which the then-second-ranked Knights knocked off the top-ranked Cougars 27-9. That win also clinched the Knights' first Mid-States Football Association Mideast League championship.

I also was impressed by the Marian Marching Knights, Drumline and Color Guard, which performed before the game and at halftime. A review of pictures from the halftime show will come in a separate post.

The visit to Marian was my fourth to an Indiana small-college campus on football Game Day this fall. My first stop was at Hanover College on Oct. 22. I so enjoyed the experience there that I visited Wabash College on Nov. 5, followed by DePauw University on Nov. 12 for the 118th meeting of DePauw and Wabash in the Monon Bell Classic. The schools were nicely hospitable in welcoming me to their campuses.

Today I present game pictures from Saturday's NAIA quarterfinal. To view a full gallery of images, visit this link. The next post will be devoted to the Marching Knights, Drumline and Color Guard.

Above: It was the opening kickoff, so no one had an advantage yet. A St. Francis deep man on the reception team felt bold enough to exchange pleasantries with Marian players along the side line, here using his hand to mimic the Knights' sideline chatter.

Above: St. Francis running back Connor Krisch is chased by Marian defensive lineman Nate McIntosh early in the contest. 

Above: The Knights' Eric Sheppard is in the middle of the return of his first of two interceptions for the day. 
Above: Defensive lineman Seth Vondersaar (22) dogged St. Francis quarterback E.J. White all afternoon, but here on special teams, he was called for running into Fighting Saints punter Michael Rogers in first-half action.

Above: Tevin Lake found the opening in the line to begin a 24-yard scamper for the Knights' third touchdown of the game. 

Above: Seth Vondersaar (22) came oh, so close to blocking this pass from St. Francis quarterback E.J. White.

Above: Several Fighting Saints players were injured Saturday. A leg injury to junior Luis Santana (46) brought the game to a halt to allow trainers to stabilize the leg and get him into a cart to seek more thorough medical attention. With him is teammate Wayne Johnson (8).

Above: To score the Knights' last touchdown from two yards out, running back Clifford Brown (25) elected to hurdle the Fighting Saints' defensive line. He paid the price: A St. Francis defender snagged Brown's ankles, forcing Brown to complete the play on a crash landing.

Above: St. Francis receiver Dustin Greenwell (81) couldn't catch this E.J. White pass. Defending for Marian is Robert Palmer (24). 

Above: Marian's Nick Bradford picked up some yardage before bracing for a collision with a Fighting Saints defender on this fourth-quarter run.
Above: Marian starting quarterback Adam Wiese enjoyed much of the fourth quarter from the sidelines as reserves took the field. Wiese completed 10 of 13 passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns. 

Above and below: St. Francis special teams player Thomas White (31) tried valiantly to maintain his balance to down a punt before his momentum could carry him into the end zone, but he couldn't manage it. Officials (below) ruled White crossed the goal line before releasing the ball, forcing a touchback and giving the Knights the ball at the 20-yard line. 

Above: Marian's Eric Sheppard got a lot of yardage on his return of a second-half interception along the sidelines.

Above: A St. Francis rusher also was sent airborne during an attempt to hurdle fallen players on the turf.

Above: Marian players huddle at the center of the field for a moment of reflection at the conclusion of the game. 

Above: The celebratory fireworks.

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