Among the impressive accomplishments Nassau College listed in the Dixie Rotary Bowl game program was this: Only been held scoreless four times in 22 years.
Make that five.The Lions came 2,000 miles from New York carrying a No. 3 junior college ranking this year and No. 7 overall ranking during the decade of the 1980s. But they looked like just another an a long line of victims for the Dixie Rebels, who rolled to a 34-0 victory before some 4,000 fans at Hansen Stadium.
It marked the fifth straight Dixie Rotary Bowl win for the Rebels and seventh straight overall. The Rebels who came into the game ranked sixth in the nation, will likely finish in the top five again, perhaps as high as No. 3.
"I couldn't be happier with the effort today," said Dixie Coach Greg Croshaw, who has produced an 80-21 record in nine years at Dixie. "We found a way to get points on the board and our defense was the whole key to our success."
Despite struggling offensively for much of the day, the Rebels finally got enough points, although the final score wasn't indicative of the closeness of the contest.
The Rebels led by just 13-0 going into the fourth quarter. But they wore down the New Yorkers with three fourth-quarter touchdowns, including one with just 34 seconds left.
Sophomore running back Wilson Kauvaka, who prepped at West Jordan High, was named most valuable player for Dixie. He rushed for 88 yards on 14 carries and led the blocking for teammate Kalin Hall, who racked up 113 yards on 22 carries.
Nassau's vaunted running back Craig Mitter, who had rushed for nearly 1,200 yards this year, was held to just 75 yards on 22 carries.
"When they take Mitter out of the game, you've got problems," said Nassau Coach John Anselmo. And that's what the Rebels did, led by defensive linemen Buzz Eckhardt, Byron Duck and Myron Davis and linebackers Brigham Burr, Toni Toluono, Mike Smith and Tyree Opheikens.
"We anticipated an all-American running back out there, but I couldn't tell which one was the all-American," said Dixie defensive back Frank Christianson, the top tackler this season.
The Nassau gameplan was to run Mitter all day, but when the Rebel defense shut him down, it forced the Lions to go to the air. And quarterback Phil Lang simply couldn't pass. In the first half he was 2 for 9 for 3 yards and he finished 6 for 20 for 41 yards.
"Their inability to pass allowed us to keep adding guys to the front line and for awhile there we had nine guys up on the line," said Croshaw.
"Our defense has been maturing all year long and this was just the climax," said Christianson, who is being highly recruited by Rice University and others. "They were really one-dimensional today. Under any kind of pressure he couldn't produce a good pass. We just blocked the run and they had no where to go."
After a scoreless first quarter, the Rebels broke through with a 33-yard field goal by Jared Santore early in the second quarter.
Nassau drove to the Dixie 11 on the next series, but Gil Guttierrez's 28-yard field goal was wide right. The Lions never threatened again.
Dixie put together a nine-play, 75-yard drive capped by Kauvaka's 2-yard plunge off tackle with 3:36 left.
Santore added a 37-yard field goal late in the third quarter following a drive that consumed six minutes.
A 45-yard punt by Jody Cox pinned the Lions at their 1-yard line to open the final quarter. A poor Nassau punt gave the Rebels great field position at the Lion 27. Two plays later quarterback Jeff Lindstrom hit Curt Stoddard on an 11-yard scoring pass, with the PAT going wide.
Nassau couldn't pass or punt on its next series and Dixie took over at the Lion 22. This time it took three plays to score with Hall going the final five yards. The Lions blocked the PAT, but Dixie offensive lineman Mark Peterson fell on it for a two points. "When it goes bad, it goes bad," said Anselmo.
Dixie tacked on another touchdown in the final minute on an 18-yard run by Zed Robinson.
The victory left the Rebels to wonder what might have been. They lost just two games this year, but one was a forfeit of a 21-3 win over Eastern Arizona because of the use of an ineligible player. The second loss was 30-26 to Ricks on a 40-yard "Hail Mary" pass on the last play of the game.
Croshaw told his team he thought they were the No. 1 JC team in the country after the game. After all, Nassau's only defeat prior to Saturday was a 26-22 loss to Montgomery, Md., which is playing for the national JC championship. Nassau's Anselmo said Dixie was better than Montgomery.
"I think we deserved to play in the national championship game," said Croshaw. "I think we have a pretty good football team."
After Saturday's convincing win, no one's arguing that.