National championships on line for county football players Friday
A pair of Putnam County athletes still pursuing their football dreams as college players will put their talents on display Friday on the national stage.
Rob Gibson, a redshirt sophomore at Marian University, will be on the field as the Knights play for the 59th NAIA Football National Championship. They face Southern Oregon in Daytona Beach ,Fla., at 3 p.m.
Hank Spencer, a junior at the University of Mount Union, will be seeking his second NCAA Division III crown as a member of the Purple Raiders. Mount Union faces Wisconsin-Whitewater in the Salem, Va., at 7 p.m.
Both games can be seen on ESPNU.
A 2012 South Putnam graduate, Gibson is the second-leading rusher for the Knights (11-2), with 252 yards on 56 carries. He scored the go-ahead touchdown, going over the top on a one-yard run, in the Knights' 41-21 semifinal win over Morningside College on Dec. 6.
Gibson also has 216 yards on 16 receptions. Besides rotating at running back, he is a kick returner, a rusher on punt blocks, field goal holder and is on the kickoff team.
Marian and Southern Oregon (12-2) have not met previously on the gridiron.
Also a 2012 graduate, Spencer played his high school football at North Putnam. A linebacker for the Purple Raiders (14-0), Spencer is the second on the team with 67 tackles (34 solo) as well as two sacks, five tackles for loss and an interception.
Spencer was also an NCAA Elite 89 winner in 2013 for having the highest GPA of any player in the championship game.
The Purple Raiders will be meeting the Warhawks (14-0) for the ninth time in the Stagg Bowl, with all of the meetings coming since 2005. The "Purple Powers," as the teams have come to be known, account for 16 NCAA Division III titles since 1993, with Mount Union winning 11 and Whitewater adding the other five.
However, all five of Whitewater's titles have come at the expense of the Purple Raiders, as they have won four straight over Mount Union (including last year's 52-14 win) to take a 5-3 lead in the series.
Spencer and his teammates, fresh off a 70-21 win over Wesley in the semifinals, will look to gain the upper hand on Friday.