Kyle Kardell makes a 38-yard catch during the Mustangs’ NAIA Championships Series Semifinal Round game against Marian.
Photo / Gene Knudsen

Brandon Wegher

Seventh-ranked Marian capitalized on five turnovers to defeat No. 4 Morningside 41-21 in Saturday’s NAIA Football Championship Series Semifinal at Elwood Olsen Stadium.

The Mustangs, who had four interceptions and a fumble, bowed out with a record of 11-2. Marian will take an 11-2 record into a contest against Southern Oregon in the 2014 NAIA Football National Championship Game to be held Dec. 19 in Daytona Beach, Fla.

All three of Morningside’s second half interceptions came inside the Knight’s 25-yard line.

Marian, which defeated Morningside 30-27 in the 2012 NAIA National Championship Game in the only prior meeting between the two teams, held the Mustangs to their lowest scoring total of the season and ended their 22-game winning streak at Olsen Stadium. Morningside’s last loss at home was a 21-17 setback against St. Francis University in the first round of the 2011 NAIA Championship Series.

Saturday’s setback was the final chapter for a Morningside offense that ranks among the most prolific in NAIA history. The Mustangs finished with NAIA national record totals of 4613 yards rushing and 8609 yards total offense to break the previous NAIA single-season standards of 4476 yards rushing by William Penn in 2010 and 8175 yards total offense by Georgetown in 1999. Morningside’s averages of 55.5 points per game and 662.2 yards total offense per game also broke the existing NAIA national records of 54.7 points per game by Florida A&M in 1961 and 642.0 yards total offense per game by Southern Oregon in 2012.

Morningside’s Brandon Wegher was also a national record breaker. Wegher rushed for 151 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 29 attempts against Marian to finish the season with 2610 yards to break the former NAIA single-season record of 2504 yards rushing by Northwestern’s Dave Perrigo in the 2000 campaign. Wegher also finished with NAIA record totals of 43 touchdowns, 39 rushing touchdowns, and 260 points scored.

After being forced to punt on each of their first three offensive possessions of the game, the Mustangs seemed to have things going their way when they scored touchdowns on three of their next four possessions to take a 21-7 lead with 3:22 left in the first half. Surprisingly, the Mustangs never scored again as four of their final seven offensive possessions ended with turnovers.

Ethan Stofferan

The Mustangs led by 14 points twice in the first half. The Mustangs opened the scoring on a 14-yard touchdown run by Wegher with 12 seconds left in the first quarter and increased the margin to 14-0 when Jason Vander Kooi caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Kasdorf with 10:45 left in the second quarter.

Marion closed within 14-7 when quarterback Hayden Northern scored on a one-yard touchdown run with 6:24 left in the half before Morningside answered three minutes later when Wegher broke loose for a 63-yard touchdown to put the Mustangs in front  21-7 with 3:22 left before halftime.

Marian wasn’t finished, though, and marched 75 yards in eight plays to score a touchdown on a two-yard pass from Northern to Anthony Jones to close within 21-14 at the half.
The touchdown pass from Northern to Jones ignited a run of 34 unanswered points by Marian to finish the game.

Marian tied the score at 21-21 on a one-yard touchdown run by Tevin Lake with 11:44 left in the third quarter and took the lead for good on a one-yard TD run by Robert Gibson to go up 28-21 with 8:32 left in the third quarter.

Fourth quarter touchdowns on a 67-yard pass from Northern to Trey White and a one-yard run by Lake sealed the Mustangs’ fate.

Northern, named the Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game, completed 19 of 30 pass attempts for 318 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for an additional 49 yards to finish with 367 yards total offense. Jones led the Marian pass receivers with eight catches for 87 yards and a touchdown, while Lake led the infantry attack with 36 carries for 159 yards and two touchdowns.

Wegher rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns and Kasdorf passed for 279 yards and a touchdown to lead the Mustangs. Vander Kooi led the Mustangs’ receivers with six catches for 98 yards.
Griffin Elbert collected a game-high 13 tackles for the Marian defense. Ryan Hartnett and Beau Shields each had 10 tackles, while Eric Price had three of the Knights’ four interceptions and was named the Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game.

Ethan Stofferan led the Mustangs with 12 tackles, while Logan Gibbs and Zac Schleuger each had 10 stops. Gibbs had a quarterback sack and Britton Barrier had an interception.

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