Josh Justice carried Lenoir-Rhyne to its first NCAA Division II championship game.
Justice rushed for 175 yards and three touchdowns, and Lenoir-Rhyne advanced to the title game by beating West Chester 42-14 on Saturday.
“None of this has sunk in for any of us yet,” coach Mike Houston said.
Isaiah Whitaker added two touchdown runs and Michael Patrick had a late scoring run for the option-oriented Bears (13-1), who scored the final 30 points after falling behind 14-12, rushed for 451 yards and did not attempt a pass in rainy, muddy conditions.
“No turnovers. What a phenomenal job of our quarterback, our fullbacks of taking care of the football,” Houston said. “The key to the game was us not turning the ball over, able to control the line of scrimmage, drive the football and make them defend us and what just what a great job by our offensive line and Josh Justice.”
Justice scored on runs of 4, 2 and 1 yard to help the Bears earn their first Division II title-game appearance. It’s their first national championship game of any kind since the 1962 team lost to Central Oklahoma State in the NAIA final.
Sean McCartney was 12 of 22 for 135 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for West Chester (13-2).
The Golden Rams reached the semifinals for just the second time in school history but were denied their first berth in the championship game.
“A disappointing end to a great season,” West Chester coach Bill Swaan said. “The conditions were horrible but for both teams. It’s tough to play a game as big as that in those conditions but that’s the way it goes.”
Lenoir-Rhyne, meanwhile, will play the Northwest Missouri State-Grand Valley State winner in the title game Dec. 21 in Florence, Ala.
Whitaker’s 34-yard touchdown run capped Lenoir-Rhyne’s opening drive and pulled the Bears to 7-6 after McCartney gave West Chester an early lead with a 9-yard scoring pass to Tim Brown.
West Chester took its last lead at 14-12 on McCartney’s 60-yard touchdown pass to Rondell White with 10:55 left in the half.
Justice capped Lenoir-Rhyne’s next possession with his second TD run, a 2-yarder that made it 20-14 and put the Bears ahead to stay with 8:10 remaining.
Whitaker scored from 8 yards out with 28 seconds left in the half to make it 26-14, and Justice’s 1-yard TD run with 27 seconds left in the third quarter made it 34-14.
Patrick iced it with a 1-yard score with 3:21 left.
NORTHWEST MISSOURI ST. 27, GRAND VALLEY ST. 13: Reuben Thomas caught seven passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns to elevate Northwest Missouri State to a 27-13 victory over Grand Valley State in an NCAA Division III semifinal on Saturday.
The Bearcats (14-0) advanced to their eighth national championship game in program history and will face Lenoir-Rhyne in the first meeting between the two programs.
Following a two-turnover first half, the Bearcats mounted two lengthy scoring drives to separate from the Lakers. Trevor Adams found Thomas down the seam for a 43-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter that delivered the game’s decisive blow.
Adams also hit Thomas for a 28-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to give Northwest a 20-6 lead.
Grand Valley (12-3) struck back with Heath Parling’s high-arching 4-yard touchdown strike to tight end Jamie Potts to cut Northwest’s lead to 20-13 with 2 seconds remaining in the third stanza.
The Lakers forced a Bearcats punt from the Grand Valley 43-yard line but couldn’t convert a potential game-tying drive after Northwest Missouri defensive tackle Bryant Hummel’s third-down sack of Parling.
Following the Lakers’ final punt, Thomas broke free and gave Northwest Missouri a 3-2 all-time advantage in the momentous series.
Thomas was a one-time Utah State commit before failing to complete enough classes in time for the 2011 season. He spent the past two years out of football, waiting for a chance to continue his career and made his opportunity as junior walk-on pay off handsomely for Northwest against Grand Valley — the Bearcats’ most fearsome playoff nemesis over the past decade.
Saturday represented the fifth meeting between Northwest, champions of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, and Grand Valley (fourth place in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference). Each game had come in either a national semifinal or a championship game.