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West Florida topples Minnesota State to capture DII crown

West Florida wide receiver Kevin Grant celebrates (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)

Quarterback Austin Reed set a championship game record for passing yards — and, remarkably, did it in the first half of play — as the University of West Florida (13-2) outscored previously undefeated Minnesota State 48-40 to win the NCAA Div. II football championship in McKinney, Texas, on Saturday. 

In a dazzling air display, the redshirt freshman from St. Augustine, Florida, threw for a record 523 yards, including 399 yards in the first half alone.  The previous record was 361 yards, set by Grand Valley State’s Harlon Hill Award winner Curt Anes in a 31-24 victory over Valdosta State in the 2002 championship game.

Reed also shattered the previous record for touchdown passes in a title game with six, the final one coming in the second half after throwing five touchdown passes in the first half. 

West Florida QB Austin Reed throws downfield (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)

Reed completed 33 of 54 passes, including three TDs to wide receiver Quentin Randolph.

UWF, which won all of its playoff games on the road before today’s neutral-site championship game in McKinney, including a stunning second-round victory over defending national champion Valdosta State — ending the Blazers 25-game winning streak with a thrilling 38-35 win in Valdosta, Ga.  — became the first team in history to defeat three previously unbeaten teams in the postseason. 

The Argonauts also knocked off undefeated Lenoir-Rhyne and Ferris State, last year’s national runner-up to Valdosta State, while advancing to today’ championship game.

Saturday’s title tilt was the second time West Florida appeared in a championship game.  The Argos lost to Texas A&M-Commerce in the 2017 championship game, falling to the Lions 37-27.

It was also the second time that Minnesota State had played for the national championship.  The Mavericks lost to Colorado St.-Pueblo 13-0 in the 2014 title game.

Despite Reed’s breathtaking air assault, Minnesota State, which advanced to this year’s championship game by crushing CSU-Pueblo 35-7, running roughshod over Texas A&M-Commerce 42-21 and trouncing previously unbeaten Slippery Rock 58-15 on the road last weekend, had a chance to tie the game in the waning seconds, but the Mavericks’ 63-yard, game-tying drive stalled at the West Florida 18-yard line with 44 seconds remaining.

Darcy G. Richardson is a historian and the author of more than a dozen books. His latest is Loyola's Improbable Ramblers: 55 Years in the Making, available now on Amazon.

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