Grand Valley St. repeats as D-II national champ

Updated: December 19, 2006, 12:45 AM ET
Associated Press

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 college football.

ESPN Classic will air the 2006 NCAA Division II Championship: Grand Valley State vs. Northwest Missouri State on Sunday at 9 a.m. ET as the ESPN College Football Game of the Week.
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 than this."

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 money."

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 snap.

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 good tackle."

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 interception.

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.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press