Fifth-ranked Morningide wrapped up its third consecutive Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) championship with a 51-13 victory against Doane College at Elwood Olsen Stadium.
The Mustangs finished the regular season with an 8-1 record in the GPAC standings and will take a 9-1 record overall into the post-season. Morningside will make its 10th consecutive appearance in the NAIA Championship Series. On Nov. 17 the NAIA announced that Morningside will host 10th-ranked Rocky Mountain College, at 12 p.m. Saturday.
Taylor James, a freshman from Westfield, finished off the GPAC-winning game with three carries to total 10 yards. He also plays on special teams where he added a tackle. He had 103 rushing yards and eight tackles in the regular season. James is an Akron-Westfield Community School alumni. Also celebrating the title as Mustangs were Chet Willer, a freshman from Akron and Tanner Bundy, a junior from Akron (whose season was cut short by injury early). Willer and Bundy are A-W alumni.
“We played well and scored points in all three areas, offense, defense and special teams,” said Morningside Coach Steve Ryan. “We’ll enjoy this before we get ready for the playoffs.”
Doane had upset on its minds as the Tigers battled the Mustangs to a 13-13 tie for the first half. The Mustangs were not to be denied in the second half with a 38-0 romp. The Mustangs got a touchdown from defensive lineman Bret Doorenbos, who swatted away a Doane pass and romped two yards to the end zone. Special teams got into the scoring act when an errant snap on a Doane punt attempt resulted in a fourth quarter touchdown by Luke Gibbs after several players touched the ball.
Another bounce that went the Mustangs’ way was a 40-yard pass from Derrick Dison to Kyle Schuck. Shuck tried to dive into the end zone but fumbled. Joel McCabe, a senior who had the duty of dousing Ryan with water during the celebration, pounced on it and got credit for the fumble recovery in the end zone for a 37-13 lead.
“Kyle and I have been friends since he got here. I’m happy when he catches the passes, too,” said McCabe, from Jefferson, S.D. and a Bishop Heelan alumni.
“We took last week’s loss to heart and made a lot of changes,” said senior running back Jon Halvorson. “We came out with a plan then made some adjustments.”
Morningside answered the challenge in impressive fashion, especially defensively when the Mustangs only allowed 23 yards of total offense to the Tigers in the final 30 minutes. The Mustangs won the turnover battle this Saturday, forcing four second half turnovers and a fumble by the Tigers and had two quarterback sacks in the second half.
Dison filled in for quarterback for the Mustangs. Dison amassed 354 yards total offense by passing for 219 yards and rushing for 135 yards, had four touchdown passes, and scored on a seven-yard touchdown run. He played due to the two unsportsmanlike penalties that regular starter Ryan Kasdorf had in a 38-28 loss to Northwestern the week before.
“Derrick looked more comfortable as the game went on,”
McCabe led the Mustangs’ receivers with five catches for 124 yards while Schuck had three receptions for 80 yards and three touchdowns to raise his career total to a school-record 44 touchdowns.
Devin Thomas’s punt return set up the Mustangs’ go-ahead score, a 37-yard field goal by Zach Decker for a 16-13 lead with 11:43 left in the third quarter.
Disaster struck the Tigers less than two minutes later, after a great kickoff return coverage by Morningside, when Doane quarterback Phil Thramer faced a third and six from his own eight-yard line. A heavy pass rush forced Thamer to throw, which Doorenbos intercepted and ran into the end zone for a lineman’s dream come true, a touchdown, and a 23-13 Morningside advantage and Doane was not a factor the rest of the way.
Doane (5-5 overall, 5-4 GPAC) was no slouch in the first half accounting for 191 of its 214 yards total offense in the first half. Morningside, which lost five turnovers in its loss at Northwestern, unfortunately kept the trend going with two fumbles in the first quarter, including one that led to a 16-yard touchdown pass from Thamer to John Tatum for a 7-6 Doane lead with 2:47 left in the first quarter.
The Mustangs had started the scoring with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Dison to Schuck at the 8:09 mark of the first quarter, regained the lead at 13-7 when Dison found Schuck on a 40-yard touchdown pass with 13:47 left in the second quarter.
Doane gained a 13-13 tie at halftime with a three-yard touchdown run by Alex Dose.
Zac Schlueger led the Mustangs’ defensive effort with 13 tackles including a quarterback sack and blocked a Tigers’ field goal attempt. Aaron Roberg joined him in double figures with 1 1 tackles. Doorenbos, Gibbs and Dan Jordan all had interceptions, Trevor Pavlik had a quarterback sack and Chris Frierson blocked a Doane field goal attempt.
The Mustangs finished the season ranked fifth in the final regular season ranking, the same as the previous week. Morningside scored an average of 51.5 points per game, tops in the nation and surrendered 17.1 points per game, ranked sixth.
Northwestern, 8-2 record, also qualified from the GPAC, and will be at Missouri Valley Nov. 23.
Last season Morningside was runner-up in the Russell Athletic NAIA National Football Series Championship game, a 30-27 overtime loss to Marian of Indiana.