FLORENCE, Ala. -- Cullen Finnerty closed his college career
with yet another championship.
Finnerty led Grand Valley State to its second straight Division II
national title Saturday, running for 115 yards and passing for 225
to with a 17-14 win over Northwest Missouri State.
It was the Lakers' fourth title in five years. They extended
their winning streak to 28 games, the longest in all divisions of
Grand Valley State coach Chuck Martin called Finnerty, a Little
All-American, an "absolute warrior." Finnerty won three national
titles in four years at Grand Valley State. He has won 51 games and
lost only four as a starter. According to the NCAA, Finnerty's 51
wins are the most of any college quarterback.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "I couldn't write it any better
Martin said throughout the winning streak his players somehow
found ways to win.
"I don't know how they do it," he said. If I knew how they do
it I'd quit coaching and write books about it and make a lot more
Grand Valley State (15-0) also defeated the Bearcats (14-1) to
win the national championship in 2005. This time, the Grand Valley
players held up the championship trophy afterward and were
surrounded by several hundred fans at midfield. Police on horseback
guarded the goal posts.
"We felt like we had them on the ropes a few times," Bearcats
coach Mel Tjeerdsma said. "We just couldn't finish the deal. Give
credit to Grand Valley. They made the plays when they had to."
The Lakers trailed 14-10 entering the fourth quarter, but took
the lead for good with 13:06 to play on a swerving 4-yard run by
Finnerty. The score completed a six-play, 36-yard drive that
started late in the third quarter.
Northwest Missouri State had taken the lead midway through the
third quarter on a 7-yard run by Xavier Omon, who finished with 129
yards on 26 carries. The drive was set up when Grand Valley State
punter Justin Trumble was ruled down on his own 25 when officials
said his knee touched the ground when he bent to pick up a low
Omon said losing to the Lakers two straight years was tough.
"This year we came in expecting to win," he said. "We didn't
play our best game today. We could have won the game, but we didn't
finish our drives and that really hurt us."
After the Lakers took the lead, their defense took over. The
closest the Bearcats could get was Josh Mathews completing a
27-yard pass to Kendall Wright to the Lakers' 21 with 1:32 to play.
That would have put the Bearcats in field-goal range. But Wright
fumbled on a hit by Matt Beaty and the ball was recovered by Bill
Brechin, who also had two interceptions.
"I saw the open guy and just went to make the tackle. I wasn't
really going for the strip," Beaty said. "I just wanted to make a
Neither team got on the board in the first quarter, the first
scoreless opening period in the championship game since 1989.
The Lakers took a 3-0 lead on the first play of the second
quarter on a 30-yard field goal by Mark Carter. The field goal came
at the end of a 67-yard drive that was set up by Brechin's second
Northwest Missouri State came back and scored on a 26-yard pass
from Wright to Raphael Robinson. It was the first career completion
for Wright and the first time a nonquarterback tossed a touchdown
pass in the championship game since 1976.