DURHAM, N.C. (KELO) – The No. 3-ranked Northwestern College football team (13-1, 9-1 GPAC) put an exclamation mark on the phenomenal 2022 season, winning the Battle of the Red Banner and taking home the 2022 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national title, defeating No. 12-ranked Keiser University (Fla.) (10-4, 6-0 SUN) 35-25 at Durham County Memorial Stadium.
“I’m just so happy for our guys. They’ve prepared and worked like champs all year. As a former player, it’s awesome to bring a national championship back to Orange City,” said head coach Matt McCarty. “Having an awesome home field advantage today showed out in force! I’m just so proud of our guys and what they have accomplished this year, this is pretty special.”
“We have a tremendous history in Red Raider football going back to the founding of our school. This means a lot to our alumni and every guy who has suited up for the Raiders,” noted Northwestern College President Greg Christy. “Not just the fact we won, but the culture of excellence in the football program matches the culture of excellence of Northwestern College. My congrats to Coach McCarty, the staff, and all the student-athletes. This achievement has been years in the making!”
Northwestern started the contest with winning the coin toss and deferring to the second half. Like much of this season, and playoff run, the Red Raider defense forced a three-and-out, putting the ball in the hands of Jalyn Gramstad (So., Lester, Iowa) and the Raider offense. The initial drive would stall out and a missed field goal kept the game tied up at 0-0 after each team’s initial possession of the contest.
After a failed fourth and one attempt by the Red Raider offense, Noah Van’t Hof (Sr., Lester, Iowa) got the ball back to the offense with a diving interception on an overthrown Keiser deep ball. The first play following the interception, Konner McQuillan (Jr., Leavenworth, Kan.) broke off a 91-yard touchdown run, but was called back on a penalty. Michael Storey (Sr., Spencer, Iowa) kept the drive alive with a 30-yard reception into Seahawk territory, but a pair of sacks would once again stall the drive.
At the end of the first quarter, the game would remain scoreless after three possessions from each side. Northwestern had the ball for 10 minutes in the opening quarter, outgaining Keiser 107-20 in total yards.
The Raider special teams downed the ball at the Seahawk one-yard line. Keiser put together a sustained drive on a run-heavy focus and a 48-yard strike set them up inside the five-yard line. A couple of penalties on the Raiders setup a one-yard touchdown run by Marques Burgess, putting Keiser up 7-0 with 4:51 left in the half.
Northwestern wasted no time in getting back, using just one play and 11 seconds, thanks to a 69-yard touchdown strike to Cade Moser (Sr., Rock Valley, Iowa) who was wide open in the middle of the field. Responding very well to the first time this season trailing with Gramstad at the starting quarterback, the score was knotted back up at 7-7.
“Jalyn came up with clutch plays when we needed it most,” noted McCarty. “He was a difference maker like he has been all season long.”
A tightly contested first half saw NWC with the slight yardage edge 166-119, with Keiser having two more offensive plays (29-27). Moser brought in three catches for 94 yards and scored the lone Raider score, as Gramstad was 7-for-12 with 135 yards in the first half.
The second half would prove to be an explosion of offense, as both teams combined for 46 second half points.
Northwestern started the second half with the football and, again, it was Moser on a wide receiver sweep going 64 yards down the far sideline to give the Red Raiders their first lead of the afternoon at 14-7. The Seahawks would march down the field on a nine-play, 62-yard drive to knot the game back up at 14-14 midway through the third quarter.
An NWC turnover inside their own 20-yard line set up a short field for Keiser. The Red Raider defense held firm, forcing just a Seahawk field goal as Keiser retook the lead at 17-14 with five minutes left in the quarter. A miscommunication on the ensuing kickoff pinned the Raiders on their own two-yard line, but Gramstad ripped off a 17-yard run to give themselves some breathing room. Two plays later, Gramstad found McQuillan who snuck out of the backfield down the sideline for a 64-yard touchdown to put Northwestern back up, 21-17.
The fourth quarter began with a massive fourth-and-one stop of their own, leading 21-17, as both teams have been stopped short on fourth and short in the contest. The next Northwestern possession, Gramstad would lead a 7-play, 48-yard drive, finding Blake Anderson (Sr., Oakland, Neb.) for a three-yard touchdown score, extending the Raider lead to 28-17.
“It means the world to be able to bring the national championship trophy back to Orange City for the alumni, fans, and community of Northwestern supporters,” noted Gramstad.
Keiser would score once more, cutting the Northwestern lead to three with a successful two-point conversion (28-25) with just over seven minutes left of the clock. Northwestern would get the ball back and melt five minutes off the clock, giving Keiser the ball back down 10 with just two minutes remaining.
Coming back for his senior season, Van’t Hof would seal the Red Raider win with his second interception of the day and ending his Northwestern career with that pick. “It was a blessing,” said Van’t Hof on the moment. “It just felt like such a long journey that we arrived in the end. I was just so happy to be there with my coaches, teammates, and fans. It was an overwhelming emotional moment.”
Northwestern got the ball back with 1:33 left, and one first down from the legs of Gramstad secured the program’s third national title and first since 1983.
“How sweet is it that Noah’s last play in a Red Raider uniform is an interception? He made some key stops and kept the momentum in our corner,” said McCarty.
Northwestern wins their first national title since 1983, 39 years in the making.
It marks the first national title for head coach Matt McCarty, who already has won AFCA NAIA Region IV Coach of the Year.
For the second-straight time hosting an NAIA semifinal game, the Red Raiders went on to win the national title.
With his 128 rushing yards, Jalyn Gramstad becomes the first 1,000-yard rusher since Jacob Kalagonis in 2018.
The third down conversion rate stayed strong today, converting at a clip of 63.6% (7-of-11).
Northwestern erupted for 472 yards of total offense on 52 plays.
The Raiders rushed for 225 yards and passed for 247 yards.
Jalyn Gramstad threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns, going 14-for-19 through the air.
He tallied 128 rushing yards, his third-career 100-yard rushing game.
Gramstad finishes one rushing touchdown shy of the single-season program record, finishing with 23 and sitting in sole possession of second.
Cade Moser recorded 64 rushing yards and one rushing score, sitting second on the team in rush yards.
In his final game as a Red Raider, he had three receptions for 94 yards and one touchdown catch.
Blake Anderson and Konner McQuillan both also brought down touchdown catches.
Tyler Jones led the defense with his seven tackles and two tackles for loss.
NWC had two interceptions, both from senior captain and safety Noah Van’t Hof.
Defensively, as a team, the Raiders finished the day with four tackles for loss.
The Red Raider win hands Keiser their lone NAIA loss of the season.