SIOUX CITY | The hurt is there a little more with each passing season.
Morningside's football campaign came to a sudden end Saturday with a 43-36 loss to top-ranked Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was a game that saw the Mustangs fall behind 19-3 in the first quarter and could not complete the comeback.
"There is a lot that happened in that game," Morningside Coach Steve Ryan said. "The two parts are the fact that we got off to the slow start and the fourth down plays they were able to convert on in the first quarter that led to their scores.
"The second thing would be not scoring when we got down to the 2-yard line there in the fourth quarter."
Morningside put together a schedule that included Mid-States Football Association Midwest League member St. Francis (Ill.) as well as NCAA Division II Truman State. Even with victories in both games, it gave the Mustangs no bump in the NAIA Top 25 Poll. By the end of the regular season, the Mustangs had moved up to only No. 3 despite the perfect record and were back on the road in the semifinals.
"I felt our guys were prepared for the game," Ryan said. "You have to play them sooner or later and if you play someone else you don't know what will happen. Either way we were going to have to travel, and that is the way the schedule was set and that's just the reality of small college athletics."
Morningside made its 14th straight postseason trip and won the GPAC title for the seventh consecutive year during a 13-1 season. During the run of seven straight conference crowns the Mustangs have a 58-3 record in the GPAC.
It made the end of this season as hard as any for the coach who just concluded his 16th season at Morningside.
"I really did enjoy this senior class a lot and I felt it was a special year, and a lot of it was I enjoyed the players on our team," Ryan said. "One of the negatives of having it end like that is it is very sudden. If you are not in the playoffs you know when the end of the season comes this is your last game and you can kind of prepare for it.
"When you lose in the playoffs you always think you are going to win and it is always very sudden. That is always hard."
Quarterback Trent Solsma finished the season throwing for 4,406 yards passing and a single-season record 55 touchdowns. He is just 2,981 yards away from breaking Craig Fobbe's career mark of 11,623 yards.
Wide receiver Connor Niles, already the school's all-time receiving yardage leader, set a new record for receptions in a season with 96 breaking the mark if 93 set in 2007 by Antuan Bloom.
"Connor and Trent have both set a lot of records and it is exciting to have them coming back," Ryan said. "There were a lot of first times that happened this year. It is always exciting to have an undefeated regular season. That is rare and a great accomplishment for the guys."
The Mustangs lose two starters off the offensive line in Andrew Metzger and Trae Bradburn as well as a pair of accomplished wide receivers in Tanner Ver Steeg and Chad Berg. Also gone is running back Bubba Jenkins, who became just the second 2,000-yard rusher in school history.
Defensively, the Mustangs will have to replace linebacker and conference defensive player of the year Caden McDonald, but Morningside has done this before as they have a string of three straight GPAC defensive award winners.
Also gone are defensive ends Jason Lupkes and Brad Wolf as well as linebacker Logan Rozeboom.
"Not having Caden in the fourth quarter (against Saint Francis) hurt for us, and what he accomplished in terms of playing -- he was playing with a broken leg -- was really special and he had a great year," Ryan said. "Caden came in and sat those first couple of years behind (Ethan) Stofferan and (Zac) Schleuger. Schleuger was a GPAC player of the year in his own right, and when (McDonald) gets his chance he just puts together an amazing year."
The disappointment of this season ending is eased a little for the returning players given the talent that remains on the roster.
"We have depth so we lose a couple of D-linemen, but we played eight and four of those were freshmen," Ryan said. "All the guys in the secondary are back. It is those linebackers be lose but the Katzer brothers played quite a bit for us.
"A lot of our leaders are back. We had a great senior class and even with that being said three of the five captains in Chase Reis, Trent and Connor are all back. Having those guys back I think things will continue."