Each team knows that the biggest challenge yet could be waiting for them at Barron Stadium this Saturday.
“I will say this,” Saint Xavier head coach Mike Feminis said. “We always talk about how we’re happy with what we’ve accomplished but we’re not going to be satisfied until we win it.”
The two teams have met in the NAIA Championship Series in the past and are familiar with how each one has proven itself on the field this season.
“Their receivers, I think, are the best core receivers we’ll face all year,” Carroll head coach Mike Van Diest said of the Cougars.
“We’re going to try to get to where we can keep the plays in front of us and tackle their athletes.”
“From a defensive standpoint, they are a typical Carroll team,” Feminis said. “They are extremely well coached. They’re hard-nosed. They’re physical.
“They never put themselves in bad situations. They don’t allow big plays. They don’t have any weaknesses.”
No. 2 Carroll (Mont.) is coming into its eighth national title game a year after winning the championship in a 10-7 thriller over Sioux Falls.
The Fighting Saints fell to Saint Xavier when the two teams met in the quarterfinals in 2006. The Cougars (13-1) advanced to the semifinals with a 14-7 win.
No. 5-ranked Saint Xavier (Ill.) was denied a spot in the 2010 final when Carroll defeated them 25-7.
Feminis knows that his team will have to use everything they have learned along the way this season in order to have a chance at hoisting the championship trophy on Saturday.
“We’re obviously going to have to do a little bit more offensively if we plan on winning this thing,” Feminis said.
“Offensively, their running back (Chance Demarais) is an absolute load. We remember him from last year and they certainly have the best offensive line that we have seen all year.”
Demarais leads Carroll’s fourth-ranked rushing attack that averages over 400 yards of offense and 35 points per game.
“I just know that our defensive guys are going to be awfully sore after the game because between their offensive line and that kid getting the ball 25-30 times we’re in for a physical battle,” Feminis said.
Demarais, a junior, currently has 1,748 yards rushing this season — an average of 134.5 yards per game — and has scored 19 touchdowns.
“They’ve got more speed in their secondary than we see out here in our conference,” Van Diest said.
“I think the challenge for us is to reestablish our running game like we have all year in the Frontier Conference and hopefully we can throw the ball but it’s going to be a real matchup for our offensive line.”
Saint Xavier’s offensive weapon is first-year quarterback Jimmy Coy who transferred to the Chicago school from Valdosta prior to spring drills.
“It was just a matter of him learning our system and letting his athletic ability take over from there,” Feminis said of the senior. “He’s as talented as we’ve ever had here and he’s a great kid.”
Coy has flourished in the Cougars’ spread offense this season, passing for 4,045 yards and 41 touchdowns for an average of 288.9 yards per game.
“It’s a tremendous challenge,” Van Diest said of going up against Saint Xavier’s offense. “There are few teams in our league that throw the football as well as they do.”
Both teams arrive in Rome today and will be part of a number of activities beginning tomorrow.
Saturday’s game is set to kickoff at 4:30 p.m.
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