Blinn College won the NJCAA national championship scoring on an 84-yard Chad Froechnicht punt return with 15 seconds left to defeat Fort Scott (KS) Community College 31-26. It was the Buccaneers’ fourth national title and the second under head coach Brad Franchione who is a native of Pittsburg, KS, which hosted the Citizens Bank Bowl.
“He started running right at me on the sidelines. He stuck his right foot in the ground and turned up and I said ‘Oh, my gosh, he’s going to score,’” Franchione said.
“The first two punt returns, I ran to the right. So I thought they were going to over pursue. I hugged the ball. Ran to the right a little and saw them all pursuing so I cut back. I think I got one or two blocks and I told myself ‘you’re not stopping until you get in the end zone,’” Froechnicht said.
The Buccaneers rallied in the second half after Fort Scott put up 26 unanswered points. Sophomore running back Mike Hayes brought the Bucs within one score on a 14-yard run and a two-point conversion set up by a Gadrian Muse interception of Dominique Davis. Then in the fourth quarter, Hayes bulled his way in from the nine yard line. The Greyhounds sacked Cam Newton on the two-point conversion attempt to leave the Bucs short of the tie.
It looked as though the Greyhounds had secured the win when Fort Scott stopped Newton on fourth and five. But there was too much time left for Fort Scott to run out the clock. The Bucs forced one final punt that proved to be the game changer.
Blinn got on the scoreboard first when Newton rolled right and found a 19-yard opening. The Buc offense came up with a turnover and Billy Greer tacked on a 32-yard field goal to put Blinn up 10-0 early.
Then the Greyhounds scored 26 unanswered points aided by Blinn mistakes. Davis scored two touchdowns on one-yard quarterback keepers in the first half while Blinn gave up 85 yards on nine penalties. As the drizzle started to fall, another Buccaneer mishap - a high snap on a punt added a safety to the Fort Scott total. Kyle Ericson hit a 35-yard field goal so that the Greyhounds’ posted a 19-10 lead going into the locker room.
Fort Scott opened the scoring in the second half with a fake up the middle and Davis trotting in untouched for a 12-yard touchdown.
“I said ‘Here’s reality guys: You played a great first quarter. Now all of a sudden you’re shooting yourselves in the foot… so play your game and let’s quit hurting ourselves,” Franchione said. “We didn’t come out early in the third and do that real well, but we got a shot and a timely situation when Gadrian Muse intercepts that ball.”
That is when the second-ranked Bucs started believing they could pull off the upset of No. 1 Fort Scott. Franchione’s father, former Pittsburg State University and Texas A&M University head coach Dennis Franchione, watching from a skybox was asked at halftime if his son’s team could recover. He said “If Brad told you he was going to win it, he will.” For Brad to be able to win his second title with his relatives and longtime friends was extra special.
“For me to have the opportunity to come to the Citizens Bank Bowl in Pittsburg, KS, in front of my hometown crowd, it will forever be a special moment in my life,” Franchione said.
The Bucs finish the season 11-1 with their only loss coming in the final game of the regular season. Prior to that, they had held the top spot in the NJCAA poll for eight straight weeks. When the poll comes out on Monday, Blinn will again be No. 1. The Buccaneers won the national championship in 1995, 1996 and 2006 with perfect 12-0 records.