SIOUX CITY | Four out of five isn’t bad.
Dorian Ballentine was proud of this red zone ratio that occurred in the Sioux City Stampede’s regular-season finale 33-6 win over the Northland Bulls. There had been instances where the Northern Elite Football League leaders had struggled in this area, particularly in a 12-7 win over Minneapolis and a 15-14 loss to St. Paul.
Playing in front of the hometown fans at Memorial Field, Ballentine tuned up for the NEFL Playoffs with his his best quarterbacking performance of the season. He had by far his best completion percentage, going 14 of 19 for 218 yards while throwing touchdown passes to Jake McDonald and Bret Van Muyden for bombs of 55 and 40 yards, respectively.
Ballentine also rushed six times for 33 yards and two touchdowns. Better yet, he showed leadership, guiding the Stampede to a season-best 508 yards total offense.
“We were moving the chains,” said Ballentine. “In the red zone, we had quite a few big plays involving a touchdown. Coach let me get some touchdown runs, five and 10 yards, rushing. T.J. (James) did a nice job in the red zone. We worked to get everything we could. We didn’t want to waste drives. We scored points.”
“He had a quarterback rating in that game of 130, even though he threw two interceptions,” said Stampede Coach Jason Garnand. “He had his best all-together game all year from the first quarter to the fourth quarter. He’s getting better every week. Now is the right time to be doing that. Hopefully, he can lead us to a semifinal win and possibly, a championship.”
It’s Ballentine’s third year with the Stampede, yet his first at quarterback, passing for 1,330 yards and 13 touchdowns, figures that each rank third in the NEFL. The former Grand View College quarterback had passed for 1,062 yards and nine touchdowns while leading the Des Moines Blaze to the 2015 Midwest Football Alliance title.
The following season, Ballentine signed with the Stampede, but Scott Manley was established as the quarterback. A year ago in his second season as a receiver, Ballentine had 10 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown, one of 24 thrown by Manley, who passed for 1,710 yards while leading Sioux City to the Midwest Football Alliance title.
Manley retired after the season. The Stampede switched to a complex pre-snap read offense where Ballentine has options on the run and on the pass.
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“He’s progressing every week,” said Garnand. “It’s similar to what Morningside does. He determines where he is going to go as the ball is snapped. When it works, he’s unstoppable.
"His passing (91 of 192) might not be 50 percent. Earlier in the year, he was forcing deep balls instead of taking what the defense was giving him. He’s done a better job every week of taking what the defense is giving him.”
Ballentine has outstanding receivers like McDonald (23 catches, 425 yards, 7 TDs), Bryce Harshman (25, 397, 3) and Van Muyden (23, 352, 4). They rank third, fourth and fifth, respectively in the NEFL, while running backs T.J. James (501 yards rushing, 7 TDs) and Larry Taylor (347, 6) are third and fourth in the league.
“I feel good about our offense,” said Ballentine, the NEFL’s quarterback rushing leader (246 yards). “We have that two-headed monster with T.J. and L.T. working the load and that opens up our passing game. It makes it easy for me and makes it easy for the wide receivers.
“I can’t complain about the wide receivers. Bret’s getting his groove back. Jake McDonald on the right side, I can’t say enough about that boy, he has gone nuts all year, catching anything that comes his way. Bryce is shifty, a great route runner who I trust. Zach Kliment is a great blocker for us. Tristen Yap is shifty. We have weapons all over. Everyone complements each other. As long as we get in the red zone and take care of business, I don’t see why we can’t keep rolling the way we are.”
During this initial year of transitioning from receiver to quarterback, Ballentine makes sure he remembers the fundamentals of not over-striding on throws.
He encourages his offensive line (left tackle Zac Woods, left guard Ryan Miller, center Adam Nelson, right guard Jameel Cunningham, right tackle Bryce Drager). He compliments the defense for playing “lights out” especially cornerback Warren Joiner (8 interceptions) and defensive lineman Trenton Jones (46 tackles, 2 sacks).
“I had never been real vocal in the past,” said Ballentine. “This year, coach has given me more space to be open, to be a leader. I let the offensive line know how important they are. Everyone touches the ball. If your quarterback is not a leader, it’s not a good thing. You have to keep positive.”