Northwestern defeats Keiser to win 2022 NAIA Football National Championship

Northwestern Wins the 2022 NAIA Football National Title. (Zachary Lucy Photography)

DURHAM, N.C. – Scoring 28 second half points, No. 3 seeded Northwestern (Iowa) secure its third-ever NAIA National Championship and first since 1983 by winning 35-25 over No. 12 Keiser (Fla.).

With two of the best offenses in the nation coming into town, the low-scoring first half was seen as a surprise from fans in attendance as both defenses stood tall.

The Red Raiders (13-1) special teams were a crucial factor in the outcome of the first 30 minutes, with a missed field goal on their opening drive along with a massive punt to pin the Seahawks (10-4) inside the two-yard line.

The special teams’ execution didn’t matter to Keiser, as they marched down the field to score the first touchdown of the day thanks to a one-yard rush by running back Marques Burgess.

Northwestern would respond just 18 seconds later as wide receiver Cade Moser broke free for a 69-yard catch and run to even the score at seven, and the two programs headed to the locker room tied.

Quarterback Jalyn Gramstad had a special connection with Moser throughout the contest, as the two opened the second half with an explosive 64-yard end around to take the lead.

Gramstad got it done both in the air and on the ground, finishing the day with 247 passing yards and three touchdown passes along with 128 rushing yards and another score.

His four-touchdown performance earned him Offensive Player of the Game honors, while his teammate Noah Van’t Hof earned Defensive Player of the Game honors with two interceptions to go along with four tackles.

“Jalyn is an outstanding leader and a great player,” coach Matt McCarty said. “He does things the right way and he makes those around him better.”

Keiser would tie the game once again at 14 midway through the third quarter, and was gifted a chance immediately after to take control of the game.

Moser fumbled the ball inside his own 30-yard line on the next possession for the Red Raiders, allowing the Seahawks to try and score with great field position.

Yet the NWC defense bent but didn’t break once more, holding Keiser to a field goal.

The defensive unit for the Red Raiders was the difference maker, holding an offense that averaged over 400 yards per game coming into the contest to just 276 yards. From then on out, it was all Northwestern.

Gramstad would connect with running back Konner McQuillan late in the third quarter for another touchdown pass to retake the lead, and later in the fourth quarter, he would find Blake Anderson to make it a 28-17 game.

The Seahawks refused to go away, as they continued to try and claw their way back into the game, yet struggled after starting quarterback Shea Spencer went down with an injury at the end of the third quarter.

Backup QB Bryce Veasley was thrown into the spotlight and nearly led a comeback for the blue and white, finding the end zone himself halfway through the final frame to make it a one-score game.

Despite his efforts, it was too little too late for the Seahawks, as the explosive offense of Northwestern could not be stopped before they added another score to sink the dagger into the hearts of Kaiser for a final score of 35-25.

Even with the loss, Keiser has cemented itself as one of the top football programs in the NAIA, reaching its first-ever championship in just its fifth year of existence.

For McQuillan and Northwestern, this championship snaps a 39-year drought, which included a championship loss just two years prior in spring 2020. The Red Raiders finished the season winning 13 straight games and their lone loss of the season was by one point to rival Morningside (Iowa).

“For me and some of the other guys, we’ve been here before and lost,” McQuillan said. “So to win a championship is something I can hold my head up high about.”

“I’m so proud of our guys, they’ve built such a great team culture,” McCarty said. “Today is a result of all the work they’ve put in.”

Joshua Bartosik, Contributing Writer

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