HELENA – John Camino had a breakout game and Cody Lamb broke up an attempted 2-point conversion Saturday as Carroll College held on for a 38-37 win over Lindenwood in the semifinals of the NAIA football playoffs.
The Saints, who have won five national titles in the past six years, meet Sioux Falls on Dec. 20 in Rome, Ga., in a rematch of last year’s title game. Carroll won the 2007 title game 17-9 on a sloppy field in Savannah, Tenn.
Camino rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns Saturday, including a 1-yard run with 5:20 left in the third quarter to put the top-ranked Saints (13-0) up 38-17. An interception by Lamb, the defensive player of the game, set up the Saints’ final scoring drive.
No. 7 Lindenwood (11-2), playing in its first semifinal, rallied with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Ben Kisner to Marcel Thompson and a 26-yard run by Nate Orlando to pull to 38-31 with 12:55 remaining.
“I’m proud of the guys, I really am,” said Lindenwood coach Patrick Ross. “They found themselves in a tough situation there in the third quarter and battled back and put themselves in a position to win it.”
The Lions stopped Camino on a fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 4:02 remaining, then drove 99 yards and scored on a 4-yard pass from Kisner to Rudy Fleming to pull to 38-37 with 38 seconds left.
Lindenwood’s 2-point conversion failed when Lamb broke up Kisner’s pass in the end zone, sending the Saints to the NAIA championship game for the sixth time in seven years.
“I wish I could’ve had that last call back. I’d change, obviously, at this point,” Ross said. “But those guys did everything I asked them to. I just felt, ‘Let’s win it.’ You don’t come into Carroll’s place and get lucky and beat them. You’ve earned that, so we figured we should just try to win it on that play.”
Camino, who had 656 yards rushing and six touchdowns all season, rushed for 166 yards more than his season average.
“It was just one of those days when everything came together. It’s pretty exciting, said Camino, who was named the offensive player of the game. “The offensive line did a great job opening up some holes and it’s just an amazing feeling. I think it will be one (of the games) that will stick out in my mind. We played a great team today and they gave us everything they had. It was an amazing feeling to come out with a win.”
Kisner passed for 223 yards and three touchdowns for Lindenwood, who also got a touchdown on a 94-yard kickoff return by Orlando.
Carroll freshman quarterback Matt Ritter passed for 115 yards in his first career start.
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