SIOUX CITY -- We know the folks at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics love Sioux City.
If they didn’t, we’d not have hosted national finals in four different sports over the past couple of decades, crowning a total of 35 national championship teams in women’s basketball (20), women’s volleyball (10), men’s baseball (3) and women’s softball (2).
We’re inarguably one of NAIA sports’ strongest supporters, helped not only by Briar Cliff and Morningside, but also neighborhood rivals Dordt and Northwestern.
What the NAIA can’t do, however, is twist arms on the people enlisted to perform such tasks as voting in the national football poll. And, that poll winds up being pretty important based on what has happened yet another time to the marvelous football program at Morningside.
Saturday night in Daytona Beach, Florida, the University of St. Francis from Fort Wayne, Indiana, became the first NAIA school in eight years to celebrate back-to-back national championships in football. Thanks to some high-handed poll voting, neither one of those boiled down to a victory over Morningside teams that clearly represented the most challenging hurdle to the Cougars two titles.
Top-ranked USF earned its repeat with a 24-13 verdict over No. 2-rated Reinhardt of Georgia in a game the winners blew open early, grabbing a 24-0 second quarter lead before injuries stymied their offense in the second half.
The capper to a 14-0 season, though, came two weeks after a wild semifinal game in Fort Wayne, where St. Francis fended off No. 3-ranked Morningside, 43-36. And, that was nearly a carbon copy of the 42-35 quarterfinal win over the Mustangs a year ago -- a thriller USF followed up with less taxing victories over Reinhardt (42-24) and Baker of Kansas (38-17).
Two premature meetings of what certainly seem to have been the two best teams the last two seasons were the byproduct of either biased or downright uninformed voting by several of the 15 coaches who make up the national poll panel.
This time around, Reinhardt was in the playoffs for just the third time whereas Morningside was making its unrivaled 14th straight berth in the 16-team championship chase. Not only that, but the Mustangs wound up reaching at least the semifinals for the fifth time in six years.
Still, with both teams sporting unblemished regular season records this fall, Reinhardt got the No. 2 nod by a 324-317 margin over No. 3 Morningside. Without wasting space on specifics, that means Reinhardt probably was picked No. 2 on 12 of 15 ballots, which pretty much makes no sense.
Water under the bridge, no pun intended, but it’s safe to say Morningside was punished a year ago for losing an early season game with Wisconsin-Whitewater, a perennial NCAA Division III title contender. Instead of finding an easier opponent for this non-conference date this season, Ryan challenged his team yet again and bagged a win over Truman State, a program from those big, bad NCAA Division II ranks that Morningside fled after decades in the old North Central Conference.
While I’m on a rant about NAIA football, I’d like to toss in my personal condolences to Morningside quarterback Trent Solsma, who was not given his due rewards after a season in which he tied an NAIA single-season record with 55 touchdown passes. Add this achievement, I might add, to the 45 scores Solsma through for at Heelan in 2013, still second best ever in Iowa prep football.
With two separate sets of NAIA All-Americans -- two teams apiece, one selected by the AFCA, or the coaches, and the other by Associated Press -- there was room for either entity to cite only two quarterbacks. So, that gets pretty tough, I’ll concede.
Also, there are extenuating circumstances where the AFCA picks are concerned because the coaches association stubbornly insists these teams (which also include NCAA Division II and Division III honor teams) may award only one first-team nod to any school. For Morningside, that was senior linebacker Caden McDonald, the GPAC Defensive Player of the Year.
The AFCA and the AP (a panel of 15 college sports information directors) both named Southern Oregon senior Tanner Trosin as their first-team choice. Meanwhile, senior Nick Ferrer of St. Francis was the second-team AFCA honoree while the AP gave that slot to Dakota Wesleyan senior Dillon Turner.
The Turner lobby -- senior versus junior being a bit lame in itself -- doted on the DWU star’s NAIA-leading 393.3 yards a game in total offense, helped significantly by the 976 rushing yards he added to 3,400 through the air.
Still, if you’ll check back to Oct. 7, you’ll see Morningside limited Turner to 10 net yards rushing while the Mustangs shellacked the team from Mitchell, South Dakota, 76-21.
Coach Steve Ryan’s 14th consecutive national playoff team outscored conference opponents 424-115, an average of just about 53-14, while running the table on its league games for a third year in a row. Now that I mention it, the Mustangs have averaged nearly 57 points to their rivals’ 11 -- 1,419 points to just 280 -- over the 25-game GPAC winning streak that began with the league opener in 2015.
That’s the sort of domination that makes it OK to suggest the 12 first-team all-conference players the Mustangs were allowed was actually at least one shy of appropriate.
Solsma, you see, wound up as the second-team QB behind Turner even though he is now 16-0 as a starter in GPAC games.
Know what else? That record of 55 TD passes were piled up in an offensive scheme that saw senior Bubba Jenkins lead the nation in rushing yards with 2,160. Trent, meanwhile, completed 309 of 454 passes with a mere six interceptions in 14 games and posted an NAIA-best 186.9 pass efficiency rating.
Second-team all-conference. Yeah, right.