SIOUX CITY, IOWA – The roadmap to an opening round National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ playoff victory Saturday, Nov. 17, featured offensive and defensive stars aplenty.
The nation’s top-ranked team didn’t disappoint its home crowd huddled together inside Elwood Olsen Stadium on a blustery November afternoon. The trail started on the arm of senior quarterback Trent Solsma (SR/Dakota Dunes, SD) (Dakota Dunes, S.D.). Resuming a stalwart collegiate career, he threaded the proverbial needle throughout the day, hitting on 28 of 38 attempts for 368 yards, marking the ninth time this season he’s been above 300 yards, to go along with four touchdown strikes. A well-earned Offensive Player of the Game honoree in the wake of a 49-20 victory over No. 16 seeded Rocky Mountain College of Montana, Solsma also used his feet to rush for another score, part of an afternoon in which he increased a remarkable streak to 26 consecutive games in which he’s connected on two-or-more touchdown passes.
The offensive story didn’t stop there, though. Senior wide receiver Connor Niles (SR/Sioux City, IA) (Sioux City, Iowa) was again his classmate’s favorite target to the tune of three paydirt stops, 190 yards, good for his fourth successive triple-digit contest, and 13 catches and junior wide receiver Bo Els (JR/Erie, CO) (Erie, Colo.) and sophomore wide receiver Reid Jurgensmeier (SO/Wahoo, NE) (Wahoo, Neb.) kept the Battlin’ Bears defensive unit guessing Solsma’s passing patterns. Els grabbed six receptions for 81 yards and scored a touchdown, and Jurgensmeier received four passes for 75 yards. Sophomore running back Arnijae “AP” Ponder (Omaha, Neb.) and the Maroon ground game was rolling, too. Ponder scored twice and carried the ball 21 times for 131 yards for his eighth triple-figure yardage total.
All of those accolades enabled head coach Steve Ryan‘s team to stampede out to a 21-0 lead after one period and not look back in route to a seventh straight opening round win and the program’s 20thall-time playoff victory. Mside’s defense ensured a quarterfinal round advancement, making it tough the entire 60 minutes on RMC’s offense.
Individual standouts were as numerous as on the offensive end. Junior linebacker Chase Nelson(JR/Beatrice, NE) (Beatrice, Neb.), gaining Player of the Game honors to join Solsma, kept himself in the backfield of the visitors on several occasions with two forced fumbles, a thundering sack and a tackle and a half for losses to go with four quarterback passing hurries. Other top numbers came from senior defensive back Xavier Spann (SR/Lakeland, Florida) (Lakeland, Fla.) who garnered his sixth interception and fourth pick-off in the last six games; junior defensive back Deion Clayborne (JR/Sioux City, IA) (Sioux City, Iowa) who led the tackle chart with nine; and junior linebacker Joel Katzer (JR/Wellsville, KS) (Wellsville, Kan.), senior linebacker Jesse Faltys(SR/Dodge, NE) (Dodge, Neb.) and sophomore defensive lineman Niklas Gustav (SO/Hamburg, Germany) (Hamburg, Germany) who added sacks to Nelson’s hit.
Morningside, moving to 12-0, steps back on to its home turf Saturday, Nov. 24. A semifinal round opportunity is at stake, as St. Xavier University of Illinois makes the western trek.