by Steven Cutler–Let me just start by saying, I am a sports geek. I came to Morningside College in the fall of 2016 so I could become a sports broadcaster. Going in to college, I didn’t know I would be as invested in a team as I was to my favorite pro and college teams. This changed when I started covering Morningside football for the student radio on September 3rd, 2016.
A main reason why I chose Morningside College was the Mass Communication department’s opportunities to cover sports in a live situation. My very first week on campus, I signed up for sideline reporter for Morningside’s first home game against Ottawa of Kansas. The next week, I was told by the sports director that he would kick my a** if I didn’t do color commentary for the next football game. I did color for the next game and that started a part of my life that I am really grateful for.
Broadcasting Morningside football was mainly a way to learn and exercise my craft. But it didn’t take long to become a fan of the football team I was learning to cover. The first example of this was when Morningside would win a gritty defensive shoving match against Northwestern 14-13. In this game I witnessed one of the most miraculous plays I have ever seen in football.
In this play, Morningside running back Tyler Kavan would break away for a long run. Before Kavan could reach the end zone, a Northwestern defender stripped the ball and started running the other way with it. After taking the ball back around the 50-yard line, the Northwestern player tried tossing it back to a teammate in order to pick up a few more yards. What this player didn’t know was that Kavan had ran all the way back down the field after him and ended up intercepting the lateral. Kavan would then take the intercepted lateral back for a touchdown. The play would make it on to SportsCenter’s top ten plays.
I was lucky enough to come at a time where Morningside didn’t lose a single conference game. Currently, Morningside is in the midst of a 43-game conference win streak dating back to 2014. That long of a win streak is another thing that is really hard to do no matter the competition.
Along with all of the great moments, like big plays and conference championships, there were tough losses too. The two playoff losses to Saint Francis of Indiana were some of those. In my four years at Morningside, the NAIA matched up the Mustangs with Saint Francis in the playoffs three times. The first two times were both out in Fort Wayne, Indiana, were both heartbreaking losses to the eventual national champion. In both games, Morningside only lost by a touchdown.
In 2018, Morningside would be able to overcome a handful of playoff demons. After another terrific regular season which included: another GPAC title, a win over a solid Division II team, and a second consecutive undefeated regular season. Morningside entered the playoffs as the nation’s number one team. The Mustangs cruised through the first two opponents in the playoffs; Rocky Mountain and Saint Xavier. Now in front of them was one of those demons that needed conquering, the Cougars of Saint Francis.
Saint Francis would have to come to Sioux City this time and the game was an absolute thriller. After an early Morningside lead, St. Francis would come back to tie the game up at 28. Morningside had their opportunities, missing two field goals late in the game, but they were going into overtime.
Overtime started with St. Francis missing a field goal that would’ve given them the lead, which set up Morningside for an any score win situation. It didn’t take long, as Trent Solsma would hit Connor Niles with a touchdown pass to send Morningside to their second national championship game. Niles would punt the ball out of the stadium and the Morningside crowd stormed the field. This still confuses me, as I’m not sure how so many people can jump a wall, a fence, and get on the field so fast. But they did and it was a wonderful sight.
Morningside would go on to face another demon, the NAIA national championship, which had eluded them for so many seasons. Morningside would play Benedictine in the national title game. The game was another nail biter, as momentum swung back and forth between the two teams.
With the game tied at 28, Head Coach Steve Ryan would have Morningside run the exact same play that they had beat St. Francis on. Once again, Solsma would connect with Niles for the go-ahead touchdown. Benedictine would not be able to answer and Morningside would win their first NAIA football national championship.
Going in to the 2019 season, I did not know what to expect from the Morningside football team. I knew they would be good, but I wasn’t sure how deep of a run they would make after graduating Niles and Solsma, who had been so important for the offense for so long. The team proved the doubters wrong in 2019, never leaving the top spot in the nation and getting back to the national championship.
This national championship will be against another demon of Morningside’s; the Marian Knights. Marian has defeated the Mustangs in their previous two meetings, each being in the playoffs and one of those being in the 2012 national championship. Morningside will have their work cut out for them as one would expect in a national championship game. Marian has been ranked number two in the nation for most of the season and comes from one of the better conferences in the NAIA. Everything is setting up for another Morningside classic on December 21st.
I am sure I will look back on these four years of covering Morningside football very well. Right now, I am so grateful for the opportunity to cover a football program like Morningside and I am glad I have found another team that I can root for. There have been so many great moments, plays, and athletes. The experience has been good for my career, but the memories has been the best type of bonus.