Trevor Adams passed for 277 yards and three touchdowns to lead Northwest Missouri State to a 43-28 victory over Lenoir-Rhyne in the Division II championship game Saturday afternoon at Florence, Alabama.
The Bearcats (15-0) won their fourth national title to match Grand Valley State for second-most behind North Dakota State's five. They're the fifth team to go 15-0, managing that feat for a second time. It was a record eighth title game appearance for Northwest Missouri, which captured its first championship since 2009.
Lenoir-Rhyne (13-2) fell short in only the onetime NAIA champion's second appearance in the Division II playoffs.
Adams completed 15-of-25 of passes with touchdowns of 29 and 30 yards to Reuben Thomas. The pair hooked up for their first score on fourth and 7 on the opening drive and the Bearcats were up 17-0 after 10 minutes.
Lenoir-Rhyne's spread flexbone offense couldn't catch up, despite a quick spark from backup quarterback and playoff star Josh Justice when he came in midway through the third quarter.
Lenoir-Rhyne had won 13 consecutive games since losing its opener, despite losing quarterback Miles Freeman to a leg injury during the regular season and having backup Teverrius Jones go down with a neck injury in the second round of the playoffs. Both quarterbacks were hurt before or during this game.
Jones returned to start this game after Justice came up big in all three playoff wins, but never got the offense going. Lenoir-Rhyne fumbled five times, losing two.
Jones sprained a knee in the third quarter, bringing a gimpy Justice into the game. The senior didn't start after injuring his left ankle in practice on Wednesday and had been wearing a boot since.
On his second play, Justice managed a 59-yard touchdown to Greyson Wells, who bobbled the ball before heading to the end zone to cut the deficit to 29-14. Wells also caught a 34-yarder in the fourth quarter on running back Corron Boston's first pass of the season.
The nation's top running team still produced 273 rushing yards, 105 shy of their season average. Jarrod Spears led the way with 13 carries for 108 yards.
Lenoir-Rhyne hadn't attempted a pass in a 42-14 semifinal win over West Chester when Justice ran for 175 yards, three touchdowns and converted three two-point attempts. Justice couldn't keep his playoff magic going but was 3-of-3 passing for 69 yards. His touchdown pass was the team's first completion of the game and nearly matched the senior's 63 passing yards coming into the game.
Zach Neumann ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 1:04 left for the final margin.
The game ended a 28-year run for the Division II championship at Braly Municipal Stadium. It will move to Kansas City next season.