Fifth-ranked Morningside advanced to the NAIA Football Championship Series Quarterfinals with a 65-17 first round victory against No. 12 Tabor.
Fifth-ranked Morningside had too much offense for No. 12 Tabor when the Mustangs steamrolled the Bluejays 65-17 in Saturday’s NAIA Football Championship Series First Round Game at Elwood Olsen Stadium.
The Mustangs advanced to next Saturday’s quarterfinals, where they will make their 11th appearance in the last 13 years. Morningside, which has advanced to at least the NAIA Semifinals each of the past four years, will take a 10-1 record into next Saturday’s game against an opponent to be named on Sunday.
Morningside, the undefeated champion of the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC), used a balanced offensive attack to overpower this year’s Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) champs and end the Bluejays season for the second year in a row. The Mustangs toppled Tabor 51-6 when the teams met in last year’s quarterfinals.
The Mustangs amassed 612 yards total offense in this year’s triumph, gaining 306 yards both on the ground and through the air.
Mustang quarterback Trent Solsma, named the Offensive Player of the Game, passed for 306 yards and four touchdowns, picking the Tabor defense apart with 22 completions in 30 attempts. Solsma threw touchdown passes of two yards to Zach Knicky, 22 yards to Trey Russell, and 12 and 25 yards to Michael Whitehead.
Whitehead finished with five receptions for 54 yards. Dom Flemister led the winners with six receptions that went for 60 yards, while Jason Vander Kooi and Tanner Ver Steeg each had five catches that went for 99 and 53 yards, respectively.
Tyler Kavan paced the Mustangs’ infantry attack by rushing for 176 yards and three touchdowns in 24 attempts for an average of 7.3 yards per carry. Kavan, Morningside’s all-time leader with 64 career touchdowns, scored his first touchdown on a 15-yard run with 13:25 left in the second quarter to extend his streak to 20 consecutive games with a touchdown dating back to last season. He later added TD runs of five yards in the second quarter and 28 yards in the third quarter.
Dylan Loberg, who rushed for 65 yards in nine carries, opened and closed the Mustangs’ scoring with a 14-yard touchdown run to give the Mustangs an early 7-0 lead with 13:28 left in the first quarter and had a three-yard TD run with 10:16 left in the fourth quarter to cap the game’s scoring.
The Mustangs’ top-ranked defense, which entered the game as the NAIA national leader in both scoring defense and total defense with averages of 10.8 points and 243.1 yards per game, also got into the scoring act. That came with 14:07 left in the second quarter when Hunter East and Nate Crnkovich combined to sack Tabor quarterback Curry Parham in the end zone for a safety.
Morningside sacked Tabor’s quarterbacks four times and limited the Bluejays to 254 yards total offense, of which all but 21 yards came in the first half.
The Mustangs led 7-3 after the first quarter and 37-17 at the intermission.
Mustang defensive back Chase Nelson was named the Defensive Player of the Game after he led the Mustangs with nine tackles, six of them solos, and was a disruptive force in the Bluejays backfield with four tackles behind the line of scrimmage for losses of 16 yards.
Caden McDonald, Austin Allen, and Jason Lupkes all had six tackles. Lupkes and Luke Gibbs each had 1.5 quarterback sacks to lead the Mustangs’ pass rush.
Tabor entered the game averaging 271.8 yards rushing per game for the fifth highest rate in the nation, but could muster only 55 yards in 38 attempts against the stingy Mustang defense for a miniscule average of 1.4 yards per carry.
Most of the Bluejays’ offensive yardage came through the air. Parham and Keith Thomas combined to pass for 199 yards, while Zach Johnson led the team’s receivers with three catches for 97 yards.
Tabor bowed out with a record of 8-3.