On to the semifinals
Morningside’s defensive unit flexed its muscle in a mighty way with a school-record nine quarterback sacks when the third-ranked Mustangs demolished No. 8 Saint Xavier 52-7 in Saturday’s NAIA Football Championship Series Quarterfinal at Elwood Olsen Stadium.
The Mustangs raised their record to 13-0 and advanced to next Saturday’s NAIA Semifinals, where the Mustangs will travel to Fort Wayne, Ind., to face No. 1-ranked and reigning NAIA National Champion Saint Francis. The Mustangs will seek revenge after their 2016 season ended with a 42-35 loss at Saint Francis in the quarterfinals.
Morningside limited Saint Xavier to 209 yards total offense and the Mustangs’ record breaking sack attack led to a negative seven yards rushing for the Cougars. The Mustangs broke their former single-game standard of seven sacks in a game against Nebraska Wesleyan in 2006.
Chase Reis, named the Defensive Player of the Game, led the way with three quarterback sacks to tie the Mustangs’ single-game record previously set by E.J. Infanger against Nebraska Wesleyan in 2006 and by Darius McMullin against Ottawa in 2014. Alex Paulson had two sacks, Jason Lupkes and Dominick Barrett each had sacks, while Jesse Faltys, Seth Maitlen, Niklas Gustav and Brad Wolf all combined on sacks.
Faltys collected a game-high 14 tackles to match his career high, which came against Midland earlier this season. Logan Rozeboom was next with 11 tackles, which matched his career high from the season opener against St. Francis. Paulson finished with a career-high seven tackles, including three stops in the Saint Xavier backfield for losses of 12 yards, to go along with a pair of quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery on the Cougars’ six-yard line that set up the Mustangs’ second touchdown of the game. Lupkes also had a pair of quarterback hurries, Klayton Nordeen had an interception and Wolf blocked a punt.
Morningside will go into next Saturday’s NAIA Semifinals playing its best defense of the season. The Mustangs held their third straight opponent to a single-digit scoring total and have held each of their last seven opponents to scoring totals of 16 points or less. Morningside has allowed only 65 points in its last seven games for an average of 9.3 points per game to lower its season’s defensive scoring average to just 15.2 points per game.
The Mustangs’ pass rush put constant pressure on Cougar quarterback Alex Martinez, whose longest completion went for only 17 yards, and Saint Xavier’s longest run from scrimmage went for only 15 yards.
The Mustangs surrendered just one score against Saint Xavier when the Cougars capped an eight-play, 54-yard drive with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Martinez to Drey Deveraux to take a short-lived 7-3 lead with 4:13 left in the first quarter.
The Cougars’ lead lasted less than three minutes. Bubba Jenkins, who rushed for 183 yards to go over the 2000-yard mark for the season, broke loose on a 48-yard run on the Mustangs’ first play after the Saint Xavier touchdown. The Mustangs scored six plays later on a 10-yard touchdown scramble by quarterback Trent Solsma to go up 10-7 with 1:19 left in the opening quarter.
Solsma’s touchdown run started a run of 45 unanswered Morningside points to turn the game into a rout. The Mustangs added second quarter touchdown runs of one yard by Solsma with 13:34 left and one yard by Jenkins with 1:18 left to take a 24-7 advantage into the intermission.
The Mustangs were never threatened in the second half and scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions to win going away.
Solsma passed for 335 yards and four touchdowns, which all came in the second half. Jenkins caught a short pass from Solsma and juked his way to a 31-yard touchdown to open the second half scoring. Solsma also threw TD passes of 13 and 69 yards to Chad Berg and completed a 52-yard TD bomb to Tanner Ver Steeg.
Solsma’s four touchdown passes gave him a school-record 52 TD passes for the season to break the former Morningside standard of 49 touchdown passes by Joel Nixon in 2012. Solsma has passed for 4000 yards for the second highest single-season total in Morningside history, behind only a school-record 4885 yards passing by Craig Fobbe in 2015.
Jenkins was named the Offensive Player of the Game after his 183 yards rushing was his 12th consecutive game of 100 yards or more and raised his season’s rushing total to 2087 yards to rank second behind Brandon Wegher’s school-record 2610 yards in 2014.
Berg paced the Mustangs with 112 reception yards on six catches, while Connor Niles had a team-high seven receptions that went for 78 yards.
Niles raised his season’s totals to 89 catches for 1352 yards and moved within four catches of the Morningside record of 93 receptions in a season by Antuan Bloom in 2007.
Morningside finished with 552 yards total offense with 335 yards through the air and 217 yards on the ground. The Mustangs’ 52 points was their seventh scoring total of 50 points or more in their 13 triumphs.