SIOUX CITY, IOWA – Picking up right where they left off.
It’d been over eight months since Morningside College last stepped on the gridiron in competition. In the face of a blitzkrieg offensive attack that posted just shy of 600 total yards and 80 points on the Elwood Olsen Stadium scoreboard and a defense that held visiting University of St. Francis of Illinois to only 52 yards rushing and no scoring over 60 minutes, fans might have thought otherwise of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ defending champions and top-ranked program Saturday, Aug. 31.
Moving a current run of regular-season wins to 30 and capturing their home opener for the ninth straight year, head coach Steve Ryan‘s team didn’t waste time putting the visiting Fighting Saints behind the eight ball. A seamless 12-play, 80-yard drive that featured highlights by air and land put the Mustangs in the end zone just over four minutes into the first stanza. Junior running back Arnijae “AP” Ponder’s one-yard dive over the left side of the offensive line for paydirt started a first-half scoring avalanche, as three more 65-yards-or-more marches and defensive and special teams headlines from senior linebacker Chase Nelson (SR/Beatrice, NE) (Beatrice, Neb.) in the form of a 15-yard fumble recovery touchdown return and freshman defensive back Joshua Miller(FR/Lincoln, NE) (Lincoln, Neb.) who blocked a USF punt and landed on it in the end zone for six helped put Mside up 56-0 as the two teams headed to the locker room for halftime.
It was more of the same in the second half. The Maroon added 24 more tallies to the total for the second-most points in an opener in school history and the first 80-points-or-more effort since 2015. Sophomore quarterback Joe Dolincheck (SO/Bellevue, NE) (Bellevue, Neb.) was crisp from the get-go, hitting on 23 of 28 aerial attempts for 316 yards and five touchdowns, harkening thoughts of another Mustang signal-caller gun-slinger of recent memory. Senior wide receiver Bo Els (SR/Erie, CO) (Erie, Colo.) had a highlight reel day of his own with eight catches for 138 yards and three scores, and Ponder and freshman running back Tupak Kpeayeh (Sioux Falls, S.D.) each finished with 100-yards-or-more on the ground with Ponder getting into the end zone twice.
Defensive accolades were just as impressive. Senior defensive back Klayton Nordeen (SR/Alliance, NE) (Alliance, Neb.) was very active with six tackles, a fumble recovery that went 86 yards for a touchdown and an interception; senior linebacker Jacob Katzer (SR/Wellsville, KS) (Wellsburg, Kansas) turned in a unit-best eight tackles; and twin brother Joel and junior defensive lineman David Rios (JR/Sioux Falls, SD) (Sioux Falls, S.D.) combined for a sack. Rios also led the way in tackles for losses with one and a half. Special teams also answered the call during the afternoon, especially in the form of Miller’s punt block touchdown and freshman place-kicker Chase Carter(FR/Knoxville, IA) (Knoxville, Iowa) going six-of-six in extra points, hitting his lone field-goal attempt and also averaging over 51 yards on kickoffs.
Morningside moves into an off week next week, going into preparations for the 2019 Great Plains Athletic Conference campaign. Dordt University is the Mustangs’ guest Saturday, Sept. 14, for a 1 p.m. kickoff.