SIOUX CITY, IOWA – You’ve heard the phrase “defense wins championships.”
Saturday, Dec. 7, it enabled top-ranked and defending national champion Morningside College another opportunity on the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ grandest stage.
As the sun streaked through Elwood Olsen Stadium early in the 2 p.m. hour, the west end found itself at the forefront again. A year after the quintessential passing combination of Trent Solsma and Conner Niles connected in overtime against the University of Saint Francis to send head coach Steve Ryan‘s program to the national championship contest on the scoreboard side, this time it was the Maroon defense, with fourth-seeded Grand View University driving for a potential game-winning score that stood up to the task on the same end.
GVU senior quarterback Ben Ferkin, moving the Heart of America champion and unbeaten Vikings to the Mside 50 as the clock ticked down inside the final 30 seconds, found junior wide receiver Anthony Turner over the middle. As Turner turned to continue to drive inside the red zone, freshman defensive back Jamal Jones (FR/Adelanto, CA) (Adelanto, Calif.) swung into Turner’s arm, popping the ball loose. Senior defensive backfield teammate Deion Clayborne (SR/Sioux City, IA) (Sioux City, Iowa) wasted no time jumping on it for the lone takeaway for either defensive unit. With the clock sitting at only 19 seconds, it took one kneel down by sophomore quarterback Joe Dolincheck (SO/Bellevue, NE) (Bellevue, Neb.) to send the home stands and home sideline at EO into celebration.
The conclusion of a nip-and-tuck battle between Iowa small college perennial powers. Morningside’s accolades, as they have been throughout their 2019 season run to 13-0, were numerous.
On offense, Dolincheck was nearly perfect, going 23 of 31 for 328 yards and three touchdowns, two of which went to junior wide receiver Reid Jurgensmeier (JR/Wahoo, NE) (Wahoo, Neb.) as part of a seven-reception, 122-yard day. Sophomore Austin Johnson (SO/Sioux Falls, SD) (Sioux Falls, S.D.) and senior Bo Els (SR/Erie, CO) (Erie, Colo.) combined for 11 more catches, with Els on the scoring end of the third touchdown strike. Junior running back Arnijae “AP” Ponder (Griffin, Ga.) was workman-like on the ground, carrying the ball 25 times for 74 yards with multiple key first down conversions and clock grinding included to highlight a game in which he became the first Mustangs’ back to go over the 4,000-yard career mark.
Defensively, besides the Jones-Clayborne takeaway combo, senior linebacker Chase Nelson (SR/Beatrice, NE) (Beatrice, Neb.) registered 10 tackles and Joel Katzer (SR/Baldwin City, KS) (Baldwin City, Kansas), also a senior linebacker, tallied nine tackles; junior defensive lineman Seth Maitlen (JR/Creston, IA) (Creston, Iowa) and senior defensive lineman Alex Paulson (SR/Buffalo Center, IA) (Buffalo Center, Iowa) each got to Ferkin for a sack; and the backfield group of junior Steven Evans (JR/Sunrise, FL) (Sunrise, Fla.), Jones, Clayborne, and Paulson combined for eight break-ups.
Special teams were not to be left out of the equation, either. Senior punter Addison Ross (SR/Carroll, Iowa) (Carroll, Iowa) averaged 40 yards per attempt, pinned Grand View inside its own 20 twice and delivered one touchback. Freshman place-kicker Chase Carter (FR/Knoxville, IA) (Knoxville, Iowa) averaged better than 60 yards per kickoff and was a perfect three-for-three in extra-point attempts.
The Mustangs move into preparations for the 2019 NAIA Championship next week. They take on the MidStates Football Association Mideast Division champion Marian University of Indiana Saturday, Dec. 21, at Eddie Robinson Stadium on Grambling University’s campus in Rushton, La.