SIOUX CITY | One of the questions Morningside had to answer entering the season was who was going to step up on a defensive line that returned just one starter?
Saturday, those linemen left an eighth-ranked Saint Xavier offensive line -- one that featured an All-American tackle -- questioning how it could possibly block a commanding herd of Mustangs in a 52-7 NAIA Championship Series Quarterfinal romp for third-ranked Morningside at a sun-drenched Olsen Stadium Saturday.
The Morningside defense recorded a school-record nine sacks and the Mustangs are on to the national semifinals for the fifth time in the past six seasons.
“Every week we say dominate and we definitely did that,” Morningside senior defensive end Jason Lupkes said. “We knew their splits were a little wider and (defensive coordinator) coach (Casey) Jacobsen had a great game plan for that. We really just got pressure on him because we knew he was going to hold on to the ball in the pocket.”
Morningside (13-0) will travel to Indiana to face defending national champion Saint Francis (12-0) in the semifinals on Saturday. It is a rematch from the quarterfinals from a year ago won by Saint Francis 42-35.
Junior Chase Reis was the lone returning starter on the line for a team that lost in the quarterfinals a year ago.
"We came out with heart and gave everything we had and just did out job basically,” said defensive tackle Reis, who led the attack with three sacks to tie a Morningside school record. “I haven’t been myself lately so it feels good to get after it.
“The seniors every year pick up the younger guys and get them to do their jobs. When they step in they all know what they are doing and they get after it.”
The Morningside defense played without reigning GPAC Defensive Player of the Year Caden McDonald. The senior middle linebacker was injured in the second half last week against Sterling (Kan.) and dressed for the game but did not take the field.
The defense seemed to make it its mission to show that it could hold up against a team that came into the contest averaging 34 points a game. Morningside forced eight punts, turned the Cougars (10-2) over on downs four times to go along with a fumble recovery and an interception.
“I felt like the secondary did a great job of not giving (their quarterback) his initial read and had to sit in the pocket a little longer than what they would have wanted,” Morningside Coach Steve Ryan said. “It is D-line and DBs all executing together and when that happens then everyone has a great day.
“We missed an outstanding football player in Caden McDonald today, but Jesse Faltys is a good football player and has started some games for us. He has done a great job and just really stepped up big today.”
Faltys led the defense with nine tackles and added 2.5 tackles for loss.
When the defense, which held the Cougars to just 209 yards of total offense, wasn’t blowing up play after play, Morningside’s high-powered offense was putting up points.
Junior quarterback Trent Solsma and senior running back Bubba Jenkins combined to lead the offense to a 552-yard day. Solsma aired it out in the second half throwing for 335 yards and four touchdowns while Jenkins ran for 183 yards and recorded two TDs.
Jenkins went over 2,000 yards on the season in the first half as he ran 19 times for 151 yards and a touchdown at the break. That brought him to 2,055 yards and joined him with former Morningside and Bishop Heelan standout Brandon Wegher as the only Mustang backs to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season.
“I love those little short runs but if you stay with it you are going to pop one eventually,” said Jenkins, who has now rushed for 2,087 yards this season. “I just knew today – I was really feeling it today, I was feeling it before the game – I was going to have a big day. Not just me the whole offense.”
The lone drive that led to points for Saint Xavier came on a short field after a Solsma interception was capped by quarterback Alex Martinez hitting Drey Devereaux on an 8-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-3.
Morningside would respond with 49 straight points after the Mustangs drove down the field with their second possession of the game to get a 35-yard field goal from Jared Amundson to open the scoring.
Jenkins sparked the Morningside offense after Saint Xavier's score as he opened the ensuing drive with a 48-yard burst to put the Mustangs at the 27. Solsma would put the Mustangs up for good with a 10-yard run on third-and-5 with a lunge into the end zone to make it 10-7.
Morningside would go up by 10 points after Alex Paulson recovered a botched snap on the 7. Two plays later it was Solsma in the end zone again, this one from a yard out.
A Jenkins 36-yard run and a Solsma to Connor Niles 24-yard completion set up a third touchdown in the first half as Jenkins plowed in from a yard out.
“I think we are just tired of losing,” said Jenkins of the big effort on both sides of the ball. “I know I wasn’t here but the guys tell me they are tired of losing in the playoffs. They get so close and then they are out. We are not taking anyone for granted but we are good too.”
A six-sack second half never allowed the Mid-States Football Association Midwest League champions any hope as Paulson had two sacks, Dominic Barrett and Lupkes had one and Faltys, Seth Maitlen, Niklas Gustav and Brad Wolf all tallied half a sack. St. Xavier finished the game with negative-7 yards on 37 carries and averaged a paltry 2.3 yards per play.
Jenkins got the scoring started in the second half with a nifty zig-zag touchdown off a short pass from Solsma that covered 31 yards.
Solsma put the finishing touches on becoming the school’s single-season touchdown pass leader with a 13-yarder to Chad Berg to give him 50 on the season. That broke the record of 49 by Joel Nixon in 2012.
Solsma,who set a playoff record with his six touchdowns on the day, was not done as he hit Tanner Ver Steeg with a 52-yard bomb and then upped that effort with a 69-yard bomb to Berg. Berg finished with 112 yards receiving.
“Early on we were kind of struggling to finish but then the second half we kind of buried them like we wanted to do,” Solsma said. “They kind of took away the deep stuff with a really athletic secondary and had a good game plan for some of the things we were doing. But obviously to hit on some deeper stuff toward the middle and end of the game was a nice confidence builder for everyone on the offense.”