SIOUX CITY – There is one little order of business for the NAIA top-ranked Morningside College football team to take care of this weekend before it embarks on the ultimate goal of a national championship.
The Mustangs – 10-0 overall and 8-0 in the Great Plains Athletic Conference – need a victory at Jamestown Saturday to clinch their eighth consecutive conference title. They earned at least a share with a 63-21 home win over Dordt last week.
Morningside should be the overwhelming favorite against the newest team in the league, but Coach Steve Ryan is a bit wary of the long trip north to face the Jimmies (3-7, 2-6).
“This game has a lot, for lack of a better term, that can distract or divert our guys’ attention,” Ryan said. “It’s a long road trip, the weather is going to be difficult. I feel they’ve been playing well but their record doesn’t necessarily show it. There are a number of things that concern me but hopefully they can see they have a lot to gain or lose and can stay focused on everything.”
The Mustangs will be playing Jamestown for the first time since the 2007 playoffs when they came away 45-14 winners on a frigid day in North Dakota.
Morningside sits atop the national rankings for the sixth straight week, has won 33 consecutive GPAC games and 28 straight regular season contests. The Mustangs lead or are near the top of most statistical categories, both offensively and defensively, in the country.
“Something our guys do a great job at is staying focused on what they’re doing,” Ryan said. “One thing about this group of seniors, they’re very competitive and it’s important to perform well every week.”
Two of those seniors – both Bishop Heelan products – are among the nation’s best at their positions.
Quarterback Trent Solsma leads the nation in total offensive yards (3,767), passing yards (3,794), completions (260) and touchdowns (51). Wide receiver Connor Niles is tied for the top spot in receptions (103) and leads in touchdown catches (22) and receiving yards (1,836) and is second in scoring (138 points) and all-purpose yards (2,080).
“Sometimes Chase Reis and Xavier Spann get overlooked on defense, but those four fifth-year seniors are all fantastic football players,” Ryan said.
Senior kicker Jared Amundson, an East High graduate, is adding to his school record every time he successfully completes an extra point kick. Heading into Saturday, Amundson has made 128 in a row.
Sophomore Arnijae “AP” Ponder has rushed for over 100 yards in six consecutive games and has 1,063 yards this season.
Jamestown quarterback Jordan Mann was named the GPAC offensive player of the week for his performance in a 41-39 win over Hastings last Saturday. Mann totaled 315 yards and four touchdowns, rushing for two and passing for two. For the season, he has 1,591 passing yards (13 touchdowns) and 238 rushing (6 TDs).
Jimmy Hatch is the team’s leading rusher with 577 yards, while Barry Williams Jr. has 29 catches for 442 yards and four touchdowns and Marcus Giles 24 receptions for 378 yards.
“They run the ball really well with some of those two tight end traditional type formations you would have got from North Dakota and South Dakota teams in the old days,” Ryan said. “They’re do that stuff really well. They’re kind of built for bad weather.”
Jamestown’s other conference victory was by a 34-32 margin over Briar Cliff.