SIOUX CITY | Trent Solsma probably summed it up best when he called Morningside’s 36-15 victory over Midland “strange.”
The fourth-ranked Mustangs bolted to a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter only to watch the Warriors reel off 15 straight points. Things didn’t get a whole lot better for the offense in the second half, but the defense shutout Midland after the break to keep the Mustangs undefeated at 9-0.
“It was a really strange game because we come out and put 28 on them right away and we start coasting and can’t figure things out,” said Solsma, who finished 20 of 36 for 267 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. “We made a lot a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes with turnovers and penalties.
“The defense really picked us up so I give them a lot of credit for holding them off.”
The first close conference game of the season for the Mustangs wasn’t fully decided until the fourth quarter when the Morningside secondary stripped Mike Seawell after catching a pass on third-and-10. The Mustangs’ Klayton Nordeen recovered the fumble and led to the lone points of the second half.
It was a 10-play drive with nine runs, capped by Bubba Jenkins’ 7-yard TD run – his second of the day – that sealed the win.
“It was a definitely a collective effort because the fumble was caused by our other safety Deion (Clayborne) and everybody was just running to the ball,” Nordeen said. “It happened to swing our way late and we were able to get that big play.”
Midland's longest second-half drive went eight plays for 46 yards.
“Second-half adjustments we knew we needed to play harder because there was 30 minutes left in the game, and we came out and said we were going to fly around and try to get to the quarterback,” Morningside defensive end Jason Lupkes said.
Jenkins went over 200 yards for the fourth time this season and the second straight game. He ran the ball 22 times in the second half and finished with 228 yards.
Morningside struggled on offense to open the second half losing a Jenkins fumble on its first drive and punted on its second. Another lost fumble and a turnover on downs kept the Warriors in it, but the Morningside defense did enough to slow down Midland quarterbacks Payton Nelson and Garry Cannon.
“We have to be mentally prepared and we came out a little slow, but we came out after halftime and adjusted some things,” said linebacker Jesse Faltys, who led Morningside with 15 tackles. “I am glad this was a close game because it gets us prepared for these last two tough games.”
Nelson threw for 256 yards and two scores and the two combined to run for 62 yards as the Morningside defense had a tough time tackling them. The duo seemed to make several big plays on third down after eluding pressure.
“We just struggled with tackling the ball and both of those quarterbacks are elusive and they moved well,” Morningside Coach Steve Ryan said. “On defense we just need to finish plays and finish drives.”
Morningside looked to be in cruise control on its way to anther convincing GPAC victory when it went up 28-0 on a Tanner Ver Steeg 7-yard touchdown reception with 11:16 to go in the first half.
However, Midland had different ideas.
The Warriors (4-4, 2-4) defense forced Morningside to punt for the first time in the game on its next possession. With a short field on the Mustang 42, Midland marched down and got on the board when Alec Von Alvensleben hauled in a 15-yard pass from Nelson to make it 28-7.
On Morningside's first play of its next possession Solsma was picked off for just the third time this season with Rion Santamaria stepping in front of the pass.
Midland faced a fourth-and-16 when Nelson hit Alvensleben on a 25-yard score. After the two-point conversion the Warriors were within 28-15.
Midland would stymie the Morningside offense for a third straight possession and with back-to-back pass plays to Seawell covering 54 yards they were set up on Morningside's 28. Mustang defensive back Xavier Spann made a couple of nice defensive plays from his cornerback spot to keep Midland from scoring just before halftime.
Now Morningside will have to look at the film and see what needs to be worked on with two regular season games remaining.
“It refocuses us and makes us deal with the momentum swings that took place in the game,” Ryan said. “There is a lot of good that happens with that. I don’t think we have had more than one offensive turnover since the first week of the season, so it just hammers home those things are so important.
“Sometimes when you don’t play well and you have some fundamental things that you aren’t doing well I guess it is kind of ideal to have it exposed so you can deal with it, guys can see what you are talking about, yet you can come away with a win.”
Morningside dominated the first quarter with Jenkins scoring on a 12-yard run, Ver Steeg brought in a 22-yard TD pass from Solsma and Reid Jurgensmeier caught an 18-yarder to put Morningside up 21-0.
The Mustangs take to the road on Saturday to face No. 24 Doane in Crete, Nebraska.