SAVANNAH, Tenn. (AP) – The two powerhouse NAIA schools of the decade will finally meet in the association’s marquee game. The Sioux Falls Cougars face the Carroll College Fighting Saints in the national championship Saturday, seeking the title that has been held by no other schools since 2001.
The programs have accounted for the last five national championships, but this will be the first time they meet in the title game. Carroll defeated Sioux Falls in the 2002 and 2005 national semifinals before winning the championship.
Sioux Falls (13-0) is looking to repeat as national champion against Carroll (14-0), which returns to the title game after winning four consecutive championships from 2002 to 2005.
The two schools entered this year’s NAIA national playoffs as the top seeds — Sioux Falls No. 1 and Carroll No. 2 — and neither has disappointed.
Sioux Falls is on a 27-game winning streak that includes an 11-10 win over Missouri Valley State in the semifinals, while the Saints advanced with a 23-7 win over Saint Francis.
Sioux Falls is averaging 46 points per game — third best in the NAIA — and 474 total yards per game.
The Cougars are led by quarterback Chad Cavender, who has 2,996 yards passing with 24 touchdowns.
However, Carroll has limited its opponents to an average of 5.1 points per game and leads the nation in quarterback sacks with 62.5 this season, led by defensive tackle Phil Lenoue with 10.5.
The Saints feature junior linebacker Owen Koeppen, named the defensive MVP of the Frontier Conference. He leads Carroll with 111 tackles, 12 for losses, eight sacks and one pass interception.
But Sioux Falls doesn’t rely solely on its offense.
Tyler Lodermeier and Trevor Holleman have teamed to make the Cougars one of the nation’s best pass defenses, allowing 132.5 yards per game. Letarius Lee leads the Cougars with 4.5 sacks and nine tackles for negative yards.
The Cougars offense is productive through the air, too.
Led by a defensive line averaging 270 pounds, Carroll has the nation’s third best rush defense, allowing 64.4 yards per game.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.