by Steven Cutler–After ripping through the regular season with an undefeated record, the Morningside Mustang football team earned the #1 overall seed in the NAIA Football Championship Series. Morningside will welcome the #16 seed Dickinson State Bluehawks of the North Star Conference to Sioux City this Saturday at noon.
Morningside comes in to the playoffs after winning their 9th consecutive GPAC title. The Mustangs swept the regular season, with their closest contest coming in the last week of the season against Northwestern. Northwestern had been leading the game at the half, but Morningside put together a strong 3rd quarter which helped them seal up another undefeated conference season.
The Morningside offense has been nothing short of elite this season. The Mustangs rank #1 in the nation in total offense per game, as well as scoring offense per game in the NAIA. This has been highlighted by a brilliant rushing attack from not only from starter Arnijae Ponder, but other Morningside rushers as well such as Anthony Sims, Tupak Kpeayeh, and Ethan Stratman. The four backs have combined for a total of 2,544 yards. The team ranks 6th in the nation for rushing yards per game.
The dominant rushing attack for Morningside has not taken away from a stellar passing attack as well. Joe Dolincheck comes in to the postseason ranked #3 in passing yards per game. Recievers Reid Jurgensmeier and Bo Els are all over the national rankings in receiving stats as well.
At the beginning of the year, there was a question mark about the Morningside offense, but there were no questions on how good the defense was going to be. The defense lived up to the hype this season, ranking #3 in total defense per game. The defense was lead by a dominant linebacker core of Jacob Katzer, Joel Katzer, and Chase Nelson. The trio combined for 198 total tackles, 19 of those being tackles for loss.
The secondary for the Morningside defense also turned in a dominant campaign, only allowing 165.5 yards per contest. Klayton Nordeen was the focal point of the secondary at the safety position, totaling 56 tackles and picking off four passes. Jamal Jones also had a big year, picking off two passes, both in which he took back for touchdowns.
Dickinson State comes in to this game after winning the North Star Conference for the 5th year in a row. The Bluehawks have dropped two games coming in to the postseason. One was a non conference game to Rocky Mountain of the Frontier and the other was to Valley City State.
The passing game has been the best part of the offense for the Bluehawks this season. Hayden Gibson ranks #11 among quarterbacks in passing yards per game. Gibson’s top target so far this season has been Tyger Frye, who has pulled in 61 receptions for 697 yards and six touchdowns.
Defensively for the Bluehawks, they are led by defensive back Derick VandeBossche. VandeBossche has recorded 60 total tackles, one interception, and picked off two passes, one going for a touchdown.
Morningside and Dickinson State is game one of 16 for the NAIA Football Championship Series. Other notable games to keep an eye on will be St. Francis at Lindsey Wilson and Saint Xavier at Northwestern, as both of these matchups will likely be where the next opponent comes from if Morningside were to advance.