Morningside enjoyed another record-breaking season in 2017 to continue its run as one of the nation’s most successful football programs.
The Mustangs broke 16 school records and tied two other records on their way to a 13-1 record for their 14th consecutive winning season during the Steve Ryan coaching era. The Mustangs rolled to a seventh consecutive Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) championship with a perfect 8-0 league record and made their 14th consecutive post-season appearance in the NAIA Football Championship Series for the nation’s longest active streak. The Mustangs routed Sterling College 63-7 and Saint Xavier University 52-7 in the NAIA Championship Series before a 43-36 semifinal round loss at the University of Saint Francis, which went on to win a second consecutive NAIA National Championship.
The Mustangs’ explosive offensive attack averaged 575.6 yards total offense per game to lead the nation for the fourth year in a row. Morningside was the second highest scoring team in the nation with an average of 51.1 points per game and ranked second in the nation with a defensive scoring average of 17.1 points per contest.
The Mustangs are one of the nation’s most successful football teams since the start of the 2004 season with a record of 147-28 for an .840 winning percentage. Morningside has advanced past the opening round of the NAIA Championship Series 12 times in the last 14 years and has advanced to at least the semifinals five times in the last six years, including an appearance in the 2012 Russell Athletics-NAIA Football National Championship Game.
Six Team Records Fall
Morningside broke six team school records during the 2017 season. The Mustangs established new single-game records with 606 yards passing and 41 pass completions in a 65-14 victory against Tabor College to break their former records of 520 yards against Hastings College in 2104 and 39 completions against Saint Xavier in 2015. The Mustangs’ defense set a school record with nine quarterback sacks against Saint Xavier in the NAIA Championship Series Quarterfinals to shatter their former single-game standard of six sacks in games against Missouri Valley College in 2009 and Midland University in 2014.
The Mustangs finished the campaign with 42 quarterback sacks to break their former record of 37 sacks in 2014. The Mustangs also set new single-season records with 56 touchdown passes and 330 pass completions to break their former standards of 51 TD passes in the 2013 and 2015 campaigns and 313 completions in 2005.
Solsma Ties NAIA National Record
Trent Solsma, a 6-0, 215 lb. junior quarterback from Dakota Dunes, S.D., broke three school records and tied a NAIA national record with 55 touchdown passes. Solsma completed 309 of 454 pass attempts (68.1 percent) for 4406 yards and 55 touchdowns with only six interceptions to lead the nation in pass efficiency with a rating of 186.9. He set school records with 309 completions and 55 touchdown passes to break the former Morningside standards of 300 completions by Craig Fobbe in 2005 and 49 touchdown passes by Joel Nixon in 2012. Solsma passed for a school-record 528 yards in the Mustangs’ 65-14 win against Tabor to break Fobbe’s previous single-game record of 501 yards passing against Evangel University in 2005.
Solsma’s 4406 yards passing was the second highest single-season total in Morningside history. He ranked sixth nationally with averages of 314.7 yards passing and 323.9 yards total offense per game.
Solsma ranks second in school history with 93 career touchdown passes and third with 8642 career yards passing to move within striking distance of Morningside’s career records of 93 touchdown passes by Ryan Kasdorf from 2013-15 and 11,623 yards passing by Fobbe from 2002-05.
Jenkins Leads The Nation In Rushing
Bubba Jenkins, a 5-10, 205 lb. senior running back from Springfield, Mo., led the NAIA in rushing with 2160 yards and an average of 154.3 yards rushing per game. Jenkins averaged 6.2 yards per carry, ran for 28 touchdowns and set a school record with 350 rushing attempts to break the Mustangs’ former single-season record of 327 attempts by Brandon Wegher in 2014. Jenkins had 12 100-yard rushing performances to break Wegher’s former record of 11 100-yard rushing games in a season in 2014. Jenkin’s 2160 yards rushing was the second highest single-season total in Morningside history and put him in fifth place on Morningside’s all-time career rushing yardage list.
Jenkins led the Mustangs in scoring with 29 touchdowns and three two-point conversions for 180 points to rank third in the nation in scoring with an average of 12.9 points per game.
Record Breaking Receiver
Connor Niles, a 5-11, 195 lb. junior wide receiver from Sioux City, was the Mustangs top pass receiver with a school-record 96 receptions that went for 1449 yards and 17 touchdowns for an average of 15.1 yards per catch. Niles broke the former Morningside record of 93 receptions in a season by Antuan Bloom in 2007. His 1449 reception yards was the third highest total in Morningside history. Niles became the Mustangs’ all-time leader with 3700 career reception yards to shatter the former Morningside record of 3277 career reception yards by Beau Kildow from 2006-09. Niles is second in the Morningside record book with 214 career receptions and 39 career touchdown receptions and is on pace to break the Mustangs’ career standards of 219 receptions by Kyle Ortegren from 2002-05 and 47 touchdown catches by Kyle Schuck from 2010-13.
Niles was the nation’s fifth leading pass receiver with averages of 7.4 receptions and 111.5 reception yards per game.
Aside from his pass catching exploits, Niles was the Mustangs’ top return specialist with six punt returns for 175 yards and one touchdown for an average of 29.2 yards per return and 17 kickoff returns for 420 yards for an average of 24.7 yards per return. Niles set a school record with an average of 43.5 yards per punt return in the Mustangs’ 41-24 win against St. Francis to break his former record of 38.5 yards per return against Midland in 2015.
Amundson Breaks PAT Record
Jared Amundson, a 6-3, 220 lb. junior kicker from Sioux City, made 84 of 89 PAT attempts and finished the season with a streak of 50 consecutive made PATs. Amundson’s 84 PATs broke the former Morningside record of 80 PATs in a season by Zach Decker in 2014. Amundson made four of six field goal attempts with a long of 39 yards. He was the Mustangs’ third leading scorer with 96 points and ranked fifth in the nation in kick scoring with an average of 7.4 points per game.
Tanner Ver Steeg, a 5-11, 180 lb. senior wide receiver from Little Rock, Iowa, was the deep threat in the Mustangs’ passing attack with 43 receptions for 808 yards and 10 touchdowns to lead the Mustangs with an average of 18.8 yards per catch.
Ver Steeg amassed 118 receptions for 2258 yards and 20 touchdowns during his Morningside career to set a school record with an average of 19.1 yards per catch. He broke the former Morningside record of 18.1 yards per catch by Stephon Pearson from 1989-91. Ver Steeg’s 2258 career pass reception yards is the eighth highest total in Morningside history.
Spann Ties Interception Record
Xavier Spann, a 6-1, 185 lb. junior defensive back from Lakeland, Fla., tied a school record for most interceptions in a game when he picked off three passes in the Mustangs’ 35-0 shutout of Concordia University. Spann tied a record that had achieved nine times before. Spann finished the campaign with four interceptions and nine pass breakups to rank second on the team in both categories.
Quarterback Sack Leader
Chase Reis, a 6-1, 245 lb. junior defensive lineman from Grand Island, Neb., had three quarterback sacks in the Mustangs’ 52-7 blowout victory against Saint Xavier in the NAIA Championship Series Quarterfinals to tie a school record for sacks in a game. Reis tied a record first set by E.J. Infanger against Nebraska Wesleyan University in 2006 and matched by Darius McMullin against Ottawa University in 2014.
Reis led the Mustangs with 7.5 quarterback sacks in the 2017 season to top the team in sacks for the second time in the last three years. Reis has amassed 17.5 quarterback sacks during his career to move within 5.5 sacks of the Morningside career record of 23 quarterback sacks set by Bob McCabe from 1989-93.
McDonald Repeat Tackle Leader
Caden McDonald, a 5-11, 210 lb. senior linebacker from Logan, Iowa, was the Mustangs’ leading tackler with 57 solos and 45 assists for 102 total tackles to top the Mustangs’ tackle chart for the second year in a row. McDonald also led the Mustangs with 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage for losses of 54 yards, five interceptions he returned for 196 yards and two touchdowns, and two blocked kicks. He ranked second on the team with eight quarterback hurries and third with 4.5 quarterback sacks. McDonald’s five interceptions was the 10th highest total in the nation.
Deion Clayborne, a 6-0, 190 lb. sophomore defensive back from Sioux City, led the Mustangs with 15 pass breakups and ranked second on the team with four interceptions he returned for 119 yards. Clayborne’s 15 pass breakups was the third highest single-season total in Morningside history and just two shy of a school record.
Fierce Pass Rusher
Jason Lupkes, a 6-3, 260 lb. senior defensive lineman from Dakota Dunes, S.D., was one of the top performers for the Mustangs’ school-record breaking pass rush. Lupkes led the Mustangs with 11 quarterback hurries and ranked second on the team with 5.5 quarterback sacks.
Spencer Wyant, a 6-1, 205 lb. junior punter from Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, ranked third in the nation with an average of 42.8 yards per punt with a long kick of 66 yards. Wyant’s 42.8-yard average was one of the highest in Morningside history behind a school-record 43.7-yard average by Connie Calllahan in 1949.