When the NAIA playoff bracket was released, I remember openly wondering how the tournament would play out with teams like two-time defending national champions Morningside (NAIA – IA) playing their first game in months, after playing their season in the fall while others opted to play in the spring, creating a rather interesting dynamic.
For some teams the down time of a few months would sacrifice some momentum (if you believe in that sort of thing) but would certainly present an opportunity to get healthy. But, like many others, I wondered if the layoff may ultimately prove to be too much for some teams and staffs.
We got a great look at those two opposite dynamics this past weekend as Lindsey Wilson (NAIA – KY) beat Keiser (NAIA – FL) and Morningside (NAIA – IA) lost a shootout to Northwestern (NAIA – IA).
Lindsey Wilson punched their first ticket to the national title game after opting to play their season in the spring, starting in February, as the win over Keiser got them to 10-0, while Northwestern (who played in the fall) has had a playoff run for the ages after beating Morningside 44-41.
For Northwestern, the win over the defending national champs was their first over the team since 2013, and avenged their only loss of the season – which was a two-touchdown opening season decisio. They now find themselves one win away from an NAIA national title after playing a September through late-November season and then picking things back up in April for the playoff.
They did it in dramatic fashion too.
After Morningside failed to convert a fourth-down try inside Northwestern’s 10-yard line, the Raiders put together an eight-play, 91-yard drive that ended with this dramatic touchdown with just 15-seconds left.
Translation: Northwestern (IA) scores the go ahead TD with 0:15 to play for a 44-41 win over 2x defending National Champs Morningside, and will advance to the NAIA National Championship. https://t.co/A4oZ01vUWd
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) May 1, 2021
The loss marked the end of an impressive 39-game winning streak for Morningside.
This trip will mark the Northwestern’s first national title game appearance since 1984.
To put Northwestern’s run through the NAIA playoff in perspective, consider this: they’ve managed to knock off three teams that won their respective conference championship, who all went a combined 26-0 on the year.
At the conclusion of the season, Northwestern ranked 6th in the final NAIA poll. Thank goodness the NAIA has an expanded playoff field, or else we’d never get the chance to witness this type of historic run. As talks continue regarding the expansion of beyond four teams to the College Football Playoff, this run by Northwestern in an unconventional spring season should serve as great example of why more than four teams get a crack at a national title.
If you believe in the ever-intangible thing we refer to as momentum, Lindsey Wilson’s decision to play in the spring almost certainly played a factor as they enter their first-ever national title game.
Perhaps unfortunately for Keiser, the semifinal game was played at Lindsey Wilson, where the Blue Raiders have been dominant, going 50-15 over their last 65 games (including 14 straight). Still, despite a strong start by Keiser, Linsdey Wilson scored 31 unanswered points to beat Keiser. Their offense is rolling at this point in the season, averaging nearly over 475 yards per game against three top-15 programs.
The two squads will face off a week from today, May 10th at 6pm at Eddie G. Robinson Stadium in Grambling, LA.