ROME, Ga. (AP) — There's a new look to the NAIA championship.
Morningside (Iowa) and Marian (Ind.) will both be playing in the title game for the first time when they meet Thursday night in north Georgia.
Marian founded its football program just six years ago and has reached the NAIA playoffs three times. Now, the Knights are just one victory away from winning it all.
"Our guys have played with a sense of urgency since we started the program, and this year it came together," coach Ted Karras Jr. said.
Morningside (13-0) knocked off defending national champion Saint Xavier (Ill.) 47-19 in the semifinals.
Perennial power Carroll (Mont.) had appeared in eight of the last 10 championship games — winning six times — but failed to make the playoffs this season.
Morningside is led by senior quarterback Joel Nixon, who moved to the position this season and became one of the top passers in the nation. He ranks second in the nation, throwing for 3,612 yards, and leads the team in rushing with 770 yards.
When asked what it would take to knock off the Mustangs, Karras was quick with a response.
"Not letting Nixon make all the plays that he's made in the last 13 games," the coach said.
In the victory over Saint Xavier, Nixon shredded the defending champs for 367 yards in total offense and played a role in five of Morningside's seven touchdowns.
He said it will take a similar performance to win the title game.
"We've got to come out and play our best football game of the season," Nixon said. "There's no doubt about that. If we don't come out and play our best football, we're going to find ourselves in a real big dogfight."
Marian knocked off unbeaten Missouri Valley College 20-17 in the semifinals.
Michael Josifovski kicked a 51-yard field goal with no time remaining, making up for a 32-yard miss. The winning kick was set up by Nathan Toon's second interception of the game with less than 3 minutes remaining. Tevin Lake broke off a 27-yard run to get the Knights in position for the victory.