Morningside's Trent Solsma passes the ball to a teammate during the fourth quarter of the game against the University of Saint Francis Saturday.

Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette

SIOUX CITY -- According to the incomparable Vin Scully, luck is the residue of design.

Say what you will about the flack the 90-year-old Scully has been taking since he weighed in over the weekend on the NFL and its national anthem protests. If you don’t like his opinion on this topic, please keep in mind that no two people on our planet agree on absolutely everything.

Hopefully, Scully will be remembered first and foremost for being one of the more articulate individuals in baseball broadcasting history. He brought an unparalleled level of insight to his 67 seasons with the Dodgers -- a career dating all the way back to 1950 and the team’s heydays in Brooklyn.

And, with just that one observation I mentioned in the first sentence, he made one of the more astute comments I’ve ever heard on any sport you want to name.

Luck? There’s good luck and bad luck. Scully, I’m sure, was referring to the good stuff. And, yes, you’re going to have more good luck if you do all the things necessary to facilitate winning.

Then again, not always.

Which brings me to a Morningside College football program that has reeled off an unrivaled 14 consecutive appearances in the 16-team NAIA playoffs and appeared in the championship semifinal for the fifth time in six years on Saturday.

I was there in Fort Wayne, Indiana, walking the Morningside sideline at Bishop John D’Arcy Stadium -- just an old, retired sports writer getting a rare chance to enjoy a big game without any deadline worries.

And, what a great game it was, even if the visiting Mustangs couldn’t seem to buy a break in a 43-36 loss to the defending national champs. As amazing as anything was how close this final verdict came to matching a 42-35 loss St Francis dealt the Mustangs on this same field a year ago.

The worst thing about last year’s thriller -- a game Morningside led 20-0 at one point -- was that it wound up being a championship caliber clash that was played out in just the quarterfinal round.

This time around, another showdown worthy of a championship battle had to be slotted into the semifinals because the Mustangs were ranked No. 3 and the Cougars No. 1.

All of which points to what I see as a flawed system when it comes to the NAIA rankings -- the balloting that determine which teams host playoff games and which teams don’t.

No. 5-rated Morningside was sent on the road for the 2016 quarterfinal with No. 4 USF because the Mustangs challenged themselves with an early season contest against Wisconsin-Whitewater, a perennial NCAA Division III national title contender.

The NAIA pollsters punished Coach Steve Ryan’s team for that defeat and he could have responded by filling the date with a non-conference patsy. Instead, he picked up a game with NCAA Division II Truman State, formerly Northeast Missouri State, and came away with a win.

Even with a perfect record, though, there were enough of those poll voters who failed to notice all the obvious data that should have put the perennial GPAC champions no worse than No. 2 in the final rankings.

So, they were back in Fort Wayne, where the host Cougars’ followed up last year’s seven-point win with a 42-24 semifinal verdict over Reinhardt (Ga.) and a 38-17 championship cruise over Baker (Kan.).

Somehow, Reinhardt, a playoff newcomer just two seasons ago, wound up with that No. 2 nod this year and got past Southern Oregon to reach the finals Dec. 16 in Daytona Beach, Fla.

As I’ve proven many times in the past, I could be wrong. However, I think I just saw the championship game and it was a contest Morningside could so easily have won.

Take away any of the three huge fourth-down conversions that essentially turned into three St. Francis touchdowns and the outcome was probably different.

The real heartbreaker came with just under six minutes to play, when Morningside, trailing 31-28, had first-and-goal at the USF one-yard line and came away with nothing. One stuffed run play, two incomplete passes and then a blocked field goal with 5:20 left prevented what at least would have been a 31-31 tie.

Ryan’s teams have reached postseason play 14 consecutive seasons because he always takes things one game and one play at a time.

Even with some very talented players returning, including quarterback Trent Solsma and wide receiver Connor Niles, there are also some outstanding seniors that will be difficult to replace. There were four senior starters on either side of the ball Saturday.

Ryan will likely toss and turn several nights, wondering if that elusive national championship will ever happen. His teams have been so close so many times, he knows better than to think they’ll just automatically be back in that hunt again next fall.

Chances are, they will. In the meantime, hats off to these Mustangs, who acquitted themselves impressively. It has been quite a run for a school whose football program in the NCAA Division II days took plenty of lumps.


Load comments