Devin Thomas has his defender beat in the Mustangs’ 42-24 win against Northwestern.
Photo / Gene Knudsen, Tri-State Sports Photos
No. 1-ranked Morningside clinched at least a share of a fourth consecutive Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) football championship with a 42-24 victory in Saturday’s showdown with No. 7 Northwestern at Elwood Olsen Stadium.
The Mustangs, 9-0 overall and 8-0 in the GPAC, can win the title outright with a victory against Doane College next Saturday in Crete, Neb.
It was a milestone victory for Morningside head coach Steve Ryan, who notched the 118th victory of his Morningside career to tie Jason Saunderson, who compiled a 118-93-11 record from 1912-41, for the most football coaching wins in school history. Ryan has a 118-33 record for a .781 winning percentage during his Morningside career.
Saturday’s triumph featured a record breaking performance Mustang star running back Brandon Wegher, who churned out 217 yards in 40 carries, including touchdown runs of 19 and four yards for the first and last touchdowns of the game. The 217 yards was the seventh highest single-game rushing total in Morningside history and the fourth 200-yard game for Wegher this season.
Wegher, the nation’s leading rusher, raised his season’s total to 1710 yards to break the former Morningside single-season record of 1624 yards by Jake Peterson in 2009. Wegher also became the all-time leading rusher in Morningside history, raising his two-year career total to 2915 yards to break the former mark of 2877 yards set by Dave Bigler from 1969-71.
Wegher raised his season’s touchdown total to 31 TDs to move within three of the NAIA national record of 34 touchdowns in a season set by Lambuth’s Jo Jo Jones in 1994. With 28 rushing touchdowns, Wegher is four shy of the NAIA national record of 32 touchdowns shared by Jones and Tabor’s Roger Butler, who accomplished the feat in 2005.
Wegher wasn’t the only Morningside player with solid offensive numbers. Devin Thomas led the Mustangs’ receivers with six catches for 136 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown bomb from Ryan Kasdorf, for his sixth 100-yard game of the season. Kasdorf passed for 230 yards and three touchdowns against a Northwestern defense that had allowed its opposition a completion rate of only 32.5 percent. Aside from the 43-yard hookup with Thomas, Kasdorf also hurled touchdown passes of nine yards to Michael Whitehead and 32 yards to Wegher.
Northwestern, which entered the game with the nation’s No. 1-ranked defense, was able to slow down Morningside’s top-ranked offensive attack. The Mustangs’ 42 points and 475 yards total offense were both season’s lows for a team that entered the game leading the nation with averages of 64.0 points and 697.6 yards total offense per game.
The Red Raiders fought back from an early 21-7 deficit to take a 24-21 lead into the intermission before the Morningside defense took over.
Northwestern had 156 yards total offense at the break and Paul Hutson accounted for virtually all of it. Hutson rushed for 155 yards in only seven carries, including touchdown runs of 64, 29, and 54 yards.
The Red Raiders’ offense was non-existent in the second half when they managed only 34 yards after the break. Hutson gained only three more yards when the Mustangs stuffed the run in the second half, and Morningside took advantage of a dismal Northwestern passing attack that saw the guests finish with only four completions in 20 attempts for 32 yards. Morningside sacked Northwestern quarterback Braden Miltenberger five times and pressured him into throwing two interceptions, both picked off by freshman Xavier Spann, who raised his season’s total to five interceptions.
It didn’t take the Mustangs long to take the lead in the second half as they marched 72 yards in six plays on their first possession to go ahead 28-24 on a five-yard touchdown run by Kasdorf with 10:56 left in the third quarter.
Morningside stretched its lead to 35-24 on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Kasdorf to Wegher with 15 seconds left in the third quarter and the Mustangs applied the finishing touches when Wegner’s four-yard touchdown run capped the scoring with 9:07 left in the game.
Zac Schleuger had two of the Mustangs’ five quarterback sacks and set a Morningside single-season record with 22.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage to break the Mustangs’ former record of 20.5 by Marshall Barney in 2011.
The Mustangs’ other sacks came from Logan Gibbs, Devin Groenhagen, and Luke Grooters.
Northwestern’s loss overshadowed a superlative defensive performance by Greg Hegstad, who finished with 21 tackles. Jermaine Ambrose had two interceptions, while Josh Treybal, Lawton De Jong, and Sam Van Ginkel all had quarterback sacks against a Morningside team that had allowed only two sacks in its previous eight games.