Patriots’ magical season ends in NAIA heartbreak

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ROME, Ga.—The University of the Cumberlands (UC) football team squared off in the biggest game in school history Saturday night — the 58th Annual Russell Athletic NAIA National Championship. 

The Patriots came into the showdown with the Grand View Vikings trying to add the first National Championship in the history of the school. The No. 1 ranked, 13-0, and Mid-South Conference East-Division champions Patriots would have their hands full though as they took on a No. 2 ranked, 13-0, and Mid-States Conference champions Grand View Vikings.

In what was the biggest crowd in UC history, senior Albert Huntley showed off his Track & Field National Championship speed as he took the opening kickoff 47 yards to the Grand View 47-yard line, putting the Patriots in excellent field position. The strength of the Vikings this season has been the success of their defense. 

That was on full display on the first drive as they forced the Patriot offense to a quick three and out. 

The Vikings wasted no time on their opening drive as they took it 80 yards on 6 plays, to make it 7-0 Grand View, 3:00 into the game.  The Patriots looked to find their groove on the second drive as they drove it down to the Vikings 11 yard line, but an illegal shift penalty set the Patriots back, and they settled for an Al Merrick (Pineville, KY) 33 yard field goal, making it 7-3 Vikings. 

Much like their first drive, Grand View gave the UC defense fits, as they found the end zone on a 7-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-3 Vikings with 3:00 left in the first quarter. 

After a three-and-out by the Patriots, the Vikings got the ball back and looked to continue their string of drives.  They capped off a six-play, 61-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass.  The Vikings took a 21-3 lead early in the second. 

On UC’s first drive in the second quarter, D’Angelo Jordan took the game into his own hands.  Jordan capped off an eight-play, 77-yard drive with a 45-yard touchdown run to make it 21-10 Vikings with 11:00 left in the half.

The defense forced a quick three-and-out to give the Patriot offense another shot to cut into the deficit.  The UC offense didn’t let them down as Adam Craig scored on a 1-yard quaterback keeper to make it 21-17 Vikings with the momentum swinging towards the Patriot’ sideline. 

However, the Vikings would make a stand, gaining all the way to the 1-yard line. The Patriots held strong, as they looked to have all the momentum going into the second half where they trailed for the first time since Week 7 by a score of 21-17. 

Grand View returned the favor, having a goal-line stand of their own on the 1-yard line on the Patriot’s opening drive of the second half. However, the Patriots gained momentum on special teams.

Albert Huntley sprinted through the line on a punt attempt and blocked his fourth punt of the season, and the Patriots took over at the Vikings 42. The Vikings held strong, though, keeping University of the Cumberlands out of paydirt.

A muffed put, however, gave Grand View the ball and the momentum at the Cumberland 27-yard line. The Vikings wasted no time taking advantage of their opportunity scoring 3 plays later, and making it 28-17 with a little less than 13 minutes left in the game.  UC wouldn’t back down though, as on the next possession they took it 63 yards in 5 minutes, which was capped off with an Adam Craig 1-yard touchdown run.  After a failed 2 point conversation attempt that would have made it a field goal game, the Patriots trailed 28-23 with 7 minutes left in the game. 

The Vikings capped the game with a five-play, 6-yard drive to make the score 35-23 with less than 5:00 to play.

 The Patriots were plagued by missed opportunities all game long as they had a season high four turnovers. 

“We have had a great run this season, and it has been special,” head coach John Bland said. “These seniors had one goal and that was to win a national title, and we came so close.  We just had a couple of mistakes that were costly, but I couldn’t be more proud of my team and the university for all the support this season.”