Crossroads College Football NAIA Special: The quiet dominance of Marian football

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When it comes to collegiate football in Indiana, four colleges are primarily mentioned: Indiana, Notre Dame, Purdue, and Ball State. That is because these colleges are the NCAA Division I (football) representatives of Indiana. However, behind this curtain are a variety of small universities that present deep rivalries, passionate fans and utter dominance. 

One of these small schools is Marian University in Indianapolis. Since 2010, the Knights have gone an outstanding 93-20, collecting two NAIA championships along the way in 2012 and 2015. A season ago, the Knights marched their way to a 10-1 record and a division title before being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Thus far in the 2019 season, the Knights have rolled off to a 2-0 start and are ranked No.6 in the NAIA. 

Led by senior running back Charles Salary, who rushed for 1,337 yards (7.5 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns in 2018, the Knights boast an explosive offense. However, the team isn’t a one trick pony. Quarterback Ethan Darter, through six games, tossed for 1,176 yards, 16 touchdowns and two interceptions on a 65% clip. Other quarterback Luke Johnston, also through six games, threw for 1,488 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions on 67% of his passes. With great quarterbacking comes great receiving; leading receiver Johnny William caught 60 passes for 1,050 yards and 13 touchdowns. 

Perhaps the more impressive feat is Marian’s stifling defense. In 2018, the Knights held their competition to just 11.5 points per game. Opponents averaged a meager 249.6 yards a game, 150.9 yards passing and 98.7 yards rushing, compared to the Knights volatile 490.2, 257.4 through the air and 232.8 on the ground. The Knights defense forced 26 total turnovers, scoring 115 points off of them. As a unit, they also produced 41 sacks.

Fast forward to 2019 and the Knights have already gotten off to a fabulous start. With a 2-0 record, the team has outscored their opponents by a 45 point margin. Salary has already racked up 219 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Darter has thrown for 385 yards and four touchdowns on 64.6% passing. William has hauled in 15 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns. The defense has immured their opposers to 150 total yards per game and have wreaked havoc causing 10 turnovers.

With an upcoming schedule consisting of back-to-back top 10 opponents in No.3 St.Francis and No.5 Concordia, the Knights are licking their chops to assert their dominance in the NAIA. Perhaps the most sought after opponent will be St. Xavier (Ill.), who knocked them out of contention in the first round of the NAIA playoffs with a 34-21 victory. Oddly enough, the Knights defeated St. Xavier earlier that season, 52-7. Unfortunately, the Knights aren’t scheduled to face the Cougars during the regular season, leaving the game for a possible rematch in the playoffs given that both teams earn the birth. 

While all the attention sways on Notre Dame and Purdue, it’s important to shed light on schools like Marian who rarely get a gleam. Whether it be the Knights dominance, the famous Monon Bell rivalry, the NCAA Division II excellence of the University of Indianapolis, or FCS pride of Indiana State, football is prominent among all regions in the state of Indiana. All it takes is a little peek behind that massive curtain to entail a world of passion, pride, excellence and downright ascendancy.

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