CRETE, Neb. | Fourth-ranked Morningside will look claim at least a share of its seventh straight GPAC title when it faces Doane in Crete, Nebraska Saturday. The Mustangs are the lone undefeated team in the conference at 7-0 while Northwestern is the only one-loss team at 6-1 having dropped a decision to Morningside.
"It is exciting and it is a great opportunity for our guys," Morningside Coach Steve Ryan said. "Sometimes you just assume these things and you definitely should not. I mean it is a privileged and a true honor to win a conference championship.
"From a football standpoint, (players come to Morningside) for that opportunity to win, the opportunity to be to be part of a winning program, and have success when you play. With that goes hard work and the guys have worked hard this season and had a great fall camp. It is about them seeing the culmination of all the work they have put into it."
Doane is the last team to defeat Morningside in a GPAC game when it scored the winning touchdown and two-point conversion with 17 seconds left to upset the Mustangs 49-48 in Crete in 2014. The Tigers are 2-3 in their last five games and sit at 5-3 overall, but Ryan is not about to take them lightly.
"I think Doane has an outstanding football team and we have always struggled playing there," he said. "That is the challenge."
The Mustangs began their season with two trips to Illinois and Kansas but have not been out of Siouxland since Sept. 2.
"It is something we haven't done this year because we had the two long road trips where we spent the night in a hotel early in the year," Ryan said. "This is 'hey, you have to get up early in the morning, you have to travel three hours by bus.' We haven't done that this year so I am interested to see how we respond."
Quarterback Jack Shadley has thrown for 1,386 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His favorite target is Drew Klein who has caught 43 passes for 466 yards and five TDs while Kyle Jensen leads the ground game with 657 yards and seven scores.
"They run the ball very well and they do a great job of taking care of the football," Ryan said. "They have some weapons on the outside. Drew Klein has always been an outstanding football player."
Jensen ran for 133 yards in the Tigers' 13-7 win over Hastings last week to snap a two-game skid.
The Tiger defense is led by defensive back Cole Wiseman who is second in the nation with six interceptions on the season, two he has returned for touchdowns.
"Cole Wiseman is an outstanding playmaker and I think that is a real strength of their defense," Ryan said. "They have some outstanding defensive backs that can make plays and they do make plays."
The Morningside offense was held to its second fewest total yards this season at 497 in its 36-15 win over Midland.
"We need to take care of the ball and make sure we are making good decisions with the ball," Ryan said. "There are times when things are going well and things are successful you can get sloppy with the ball and that is what happened to us Saturday."
The offense struggled but running back Bubba Jenkins put up his second straight 200-yard game as he ran for 228 yards and two touchdowns. He has gone over 100 yards the past eight games. Jenkins is the nation’s leading rusher with an average of 162.7 yards per game and is second in the nation in scoring with 132 points.
Wide receiver Connor Niles is also poised to break a Morningside record. Niles raised his career total to 3,266 reception yards to move within 11 yards of the Morningside record of 3,277 career reception yards by Beau Kildow, who played at Morningside from 2006-09.
"The guys that he has passed up on the list, and he has one left in Beau Kildow, were all All-Americans here and put up great numbers," Ryan said. "To do it in his junior year is pretty special."
Morningside will be without senior receiver Tanner Ver Steeg after he took a hard fall late in the game against Midland last week.
Morningside was a 69-7 winner over the Tigers last season and holds a 14-2 advantage in the all-time series.