SIOUX CITY | The Morningside College football team officially weighed in Saturday night on its feelings about the Great Plains Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll.
Picked second behind heated rival Northwestern after winning the title a year ago, the Mustangs made it crystal clear they intend to duplicate that feat, roaring to a 27-0 halftime lead en route to a 34-7 victory before an Olsen Stadium crowd of approximately 3,000.
Former Morningside wide receiver Joel Nixon, the ex-high school quarterback returning to his old position for this one season only, threw three touchdown passes as Coach Steve Ryan’s eighth-ranked team impressively followed up on a 49-7 rout of No. 17 Valley City State in an Aug. 30 season opener.
Meanwhile, a veteran defensive unit limited the 10th-ranked Red Raiders to just two first downs and 65 total yards in the first two quarters after they’d piled up a school-record 649 total yards while opening their season with a 49-0 shutout over Southwestern of Winfield, Kan.
“We played how we needed to play,’’ said senior cornerback Colby Henderson, the NAIA defensive player of the year last season. “We played how we needed to show people that Morningside is still on top.’’
“We wanted to show everybody how good we’re going to be,’’ said senior safety Jared Goforth, who led the Mustangs with 10 total tackles.
“It was all about our whole team doing our keys, not just one player,’’ said Goforth, a former Ankeny High school athlete whose younger brother, Stephen, is a senior running back for this year’s Hawks, who outgunned top-ranked West Des Moines Dowling Friday night. “One guy misses his keys and they’re going to score touchdowns on you.’’
“The teams are closer than what the score indicates,’’ asserted Morningside’s Ryan, who has led the Mustangs to eight consecutive national playoff appearances and now six straight wins over Northwestern. “They made a couple of turnovers in the first half that really made a difference and Ty Littzen’s two early field goals were huge in getting us going.’’
Littzen, a 5-6, 140-pound freshman from Fort Dodge, converted kicks from 51 and 45 yards to give Morningside a 6-0 lead after one quarter. Three second-quarter touchdowns proceeded to blow it open, enabling Ryan and his staff to play things fairly close to the vest for most of the second half.
“The best example of how that first half went for us was when (senior fullback) Brandon Smith, who hardly ever fumbles, leaves it on the ground,’’ said Northwestern Coach Kyle Achterhoff, referring to a costly miscue on the Raiders’ first snap after falling behind 20-0 on Fred Jones’ seven-yard run with 1:39 left in the half.
“Then, all of a sudden a 20-to-nothing game that we could probably have lived with turns into a 27-nothing game,’’ said Achterhoff.
Indeed, Morningside all but nailed things down, cashing in on that fumble when Nixon converted a fourth-and-goal gamble, firing a three-yard TD pass to Tyler Sinsabaugh with 10 seconds left in the half.
It was the first of two scoring catches for Sinsabaugh, a junior from Mesa, Ariz., who also tallied Morningside’s only touchdown of the second half on a 15-yard fade route with 2:59 remaining.
Nixon’s other TD pass, the Mustangs’ first touchdown of the night, was a 32-yard scoring play to former Bishop Heelan athlete Joel McCabe less than four minutes into the second quarter.
“I’ve said it before (about the GPAC poll), I thought it was ridiculous,’’ said Achterhoff, whose team missed the playoffs for the fifth year in a row last fall despite an excellent 9-2 campaign. “Until somebody beats ‘em, they’re the defending conference champs.’’
Morningside got a solid 190-yard output from its ground game as junior Josh Gaedke netted 79 yards on 16 carries and senior Fred Jones added 62 on 21 attempts. The Mustangs also got 64 yards on 14 carries by the elusive Nixon, whose punt return touchdown produced the game-winning score in the teams’ 2010 meeting in Orange City.
Gaedke, a 5-10, 200-pound junior from Colo, Iowa, isn’t listed on Ryan’s two-deep because of injuries from last season that left him questionable for this fall.
“We recruited him as a linebacker,’’ said Ryan, who was disappointed when Gaedke opted to play, instead, for Waldorf College in Forest City. “But we decided last summer, after he transferred here, to move him to running back because he’s a little smaller than we like our linebackers to be.’’
Gaedke, who rushed for 1,548 yards on a 7-4 team as a prep senior in the fall of 2008, sat out one year at Waldorf and was then an all-conference linebacker before transferring to Morningside.
“That was a good defense we faced tonight,’’ said Ryan. “The big thing was we didn’t turn it over and we were able to get a lot of shorter fields and take advantage.’’
Northwestern quarterback Davis Bloemendaal, a junior who’d gone 9-0 since winning the starting job for the fourth game last season, was 21 of 43 through the air for 196 yards. However, the Raiders’ strong 1-2 backfield punch of Smith and Theo Bartman were largely held in check as Northwestern netted only 68 yards rushing.
Sean Elliott followed Goforth with nine tackles for Morningside and Chris Calvillo added seven. Meanwhile, linebackers Nate Fischer and Isaiah Twitty each figured in 15 tackles for the Raiders. Freshman safety Jake Zylstra was right behind them with 14 and All-American defensive lineman Jordan Carlson made his presence felt with 11.
Morningside 34, Northwestern 7
Northwestern 0 0 0 0 -- 7
Morningside 6 21 0 7 -- 34
MOR: FG Ty Littzen 51 7:14
MOR: FG Littzen 45 :01
MOR: Joel McCabe 32 pass from Joel Nixon (Littzen kick) 11:07
MOR: Fred Jones 7 run (Littzen kick) 1:39
MOR: Tyler Sinsabaugh 3 pass from Nixon (Littzen kick) :10
NOR: Theo Bartman 1 run (Mike O’Brien kick) 8:48
MOR: Sinsabaugh 15 pass from Nixon (Littzen kick) 2:59
First downs 13 23
Rushes-yards 27-68 55-190
Passing yards 196 160
Passes 21-43-1 16-29-0
Total plays-yards 70-264 84-350
Fumbles-lost 4-2 1-0
Penalties-yards 5-66 7-55
Punts-average 9-37.2 9-40.9
Possession time 22:05 37:55
RUSHING: Northwestern -- Brandon Smith 8-33, Theo Bartman 5-21, Davis Bloemendaal 13-18, Brice Byker 1-(-4). Morningside -- Josh Gaedke 16-79, Joel Nixon 14-64, Fred Jones 21-62, TEAM 4-(-15).
PASSING: Northwestern -- Bloemendaal 21-43-1 -- 196. Morningside -- Nixon 16-29-0 -- 160.
RECEIVING: Northwestern -- Eli Groenendyk 5-35, Smith 3-52, Ben Green 3-39, Bartman 3-22, Jacey Hoegh 3-15, Jordan Micalef 2-17, Tyler Walker 1-9, Byker 1-7. Morningside -- Tyler Sinsabaugh 6-72, Joel McCabe 5-53, Gaedke 2-23, Jake Allen 2-4, Colby Henderson 1-8.
(Solo-Assist -- Total)
NORTHWESTERN: Nate Fischer 11-4 -- 15, Isaiah Twitty 5-10 -- 15, Jake Zylstra 7-7 -- 14, Jordan Carlson 5-6 -- 11, Aaron Jansen 5-4 -- 9, Nate Van Ginkel 1-7 -- 8, Dillion Green 2-2 -- 4, Ethan Lensch 1-3 -- 4, Greg Hegstad 1-3 -- 4.
MORNINGSIDE: Jared Goforth 5-5 -- 10, Sean Elliott 6-3 -- 9, Chris Calvillo 5-2 -- 7, Aaron Roberg 0-6 -- 6, Colby Henderson 4-1 -- 5, Taylor Johnson 3-0 -- 3, Cole Boger 3-0 -- 3, Andrew Broocks 3-0 -- 3, Trevor Strong 2-1 -- 3, Logan Gibbs 2-1 -- 3, Billy Awtry 1-2 -- 3, Ben Rickord 2-0 -- 2, Nick Williams 1-1 -- 2, Bret Doorenbos 1-1 -- 2, Keith Chvatal 1-1 -- 2.