Morningside earns second straight NAIA football championship

GRAMBLING, LA. – The Tom Osborne Trophy won't have an unfamiliar route home in 2019.

A gritty Morningside College defense dug its heels in and held a hard-charging Marian University of Indiana on downs inside its own 25-yard-line in the late stages of the final stanza. The Maroon offense reciprocated turning to junior running back star Arnijae "AP" Ponder (Griffin, Ga.) for four carries totaling 11 yards and sophomore quarterback Joe Dolincheck (SO/Bellevue, NE) (Bellevue, Neb.), winding up an Offensive Player of the Game performance for the ages with a toss sweep pass to senior wide receiver Bo Els (SR/Erie, CO) (Erie, Colo.) who found the end zone for the deciding points of a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics' championship game victory.

The scoring drive gave head coach Steve Ryan's team a 40-31 advantage. The second-seeded Knights moved in for a score with 1:04 to go but couldn't convert the ensuing onside kick to close out the 40-38 final. It was a victory ensuring Mside's residence as one of four NAIA programs to win back-to-back championships, joining the University of St. Francis of Indiana, Carroll College of Montana, and Georgetown College of Kentucky.

Heroes emerged on a rainy, cool northern Louisiana evening that will be remembered in the Mustangs' annals. Offensively, Dolincheck became only the third quarterback in program history to reach 4,000 yards in a season and firing for six touchdowns tying him for sixth among all-time single-game bests at the school; the receiving trio of sophomore Austin Johnson (SO/Sioux Falls, SD) (Sioux Falls, S.D.), junior Reid Jurgensmeier (JR/Wahoo, NE) (Wahoo, Neb.) and Els vexed another defensive secondary for a combined 28 catches that resulted in 262 yards and five touchdowns; and Ponder, the nation's leading rusher and the Mustangs' all-time ground gainer, picked up a 25th 100-yards-or-more outing with 20 carries for 130 yards.

The defense was opportunistic with one takeaway in the form of an interception from senior linebacker Chase Nelson (SR/Beatrice, NE) (Beatrice, Neb.). They also made themselves familiar in Marian's backfield with five tackles for losses and also made things difficult on the opposition passing attack with seven break-ups to go along with the interception. It couldn't have been more appropriate, either, than the five men topping the tackle charts to be part of the Class of 2020 which had guided the way to lofty heights. Senior linebacker Joel Katzer (SR/Baldwin City, KS) and his twin brother, Joel, (Baldwin City, Kan.), the authors of so many special Mustangs' moments over the last four years, tallied 13 and seven tackles, respectively; the backfield tandem of senior Klayton Nordeen (SR/Alliance, NE) (Alliance, Neb.) and Deion Clayborne (SR/Sioux City, IA) (Sioux City, Iowa) turned in eight and seven tackles apiece with Clayborne adding five break-ups to gain Defensive Player of the Game honors; and defensive lineman Alex Paulson (SR/Buffalo Center, IA) (Buffalo Center, Iowa) leading another impressive line effort with four tackles.

It was another strong special teams' collaboration, too. The duo of freshman placekicker Chase Carter (FR/Knoxville, IA) (Knoxville, Iowa) and senior punter Addison Ross (SR/Carroll, Iowa) (Carroll, Iowa) provided the headlines. Carter was five-for-five in extra points and averaged better than 45 yards per kickoff and Ross was especially key pinning Marian inside the 20 once and averaging better than 36 yards per punt with long of 47 yards.