Morningside knocks out Vikings

Monday, December 1, 2014
Junior Ricky Fuentes caught a game-tying touchdown pass for the Vikings during the first quarter. (Chris Allen/Democrat-News)

SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- For Morningside (Iowa), it was just average offensive production.

For the Missouri Valley College football team, it was one their worst defensive performances under the present regime Saturday when the Mustangs rolled to a 56-28 home win in the NAIA Championship Series quarterfinal round.

"We knew we were going to have to score some points and limit their opportunities, and we didn't score enough or limit enough," MVC head coach Paul Troth remarked. "Our kids played hard from the start to the finish. It just wasn't our day."

Instead, the day belonged to fourth-ranked Morningside junior Brandon Wegher, who in 2009 set a University of Iowa freshman rushing record with 641 yards and eight touchdowns before a series of school transfers and criminal charges -- including domestic assault in 2012. He punished No. 5 Valley with 386 total yards, 311 on the ground, and four TDs.

The Mustangs got off to a quick start when senior Ryan Kasdorf hit freshman Connor Niles in stride down the left sidelines for a 75-yard touchdown pass. Morningside's next play was a 45-yard Wegher run, but the Vikings came up with a stop and took over on their own 5-yard line.

Senior Bruce Reyes' 37-yard throw to junior Mikquel Johnson got them out of the hole and a pass interference penalty put them in the red zone, but freshman Chad Berg's interception snuffed the threat.

The Mustangs again got into Valley territory before being forced to punt, the ball downed at the 7. Reyes found junior Dylan McDaniel for gains of 55 and 20 yards, then connected with junior Ricky Fuentes with a 20-yard scoring strike.

Morningside answered with one play, a swing pass that Wegher took 75 yards. Freshman Terrance Hollins-White's 44-yard kick return put Valley in good field position, requiring only seven plays to tie the score on senior Jarrell Davis' 4-yard catch.

"We were working so hard for our points and they were getting some big plays," Troth said. "We just couldn't slow them down enough."

The Mustangs regained the lead with a 13-play, 77-yard drive, capped by Wegher's 1-yard plunge. They got the ball back on the Vikings' 35 after a shanked punt, taking six snaps to pull back in front with a 2-yard Niles catch.

This is when Morningside started getting separation. Wegher broke off a 66-yard run for a 28-14 lead, but Valley struck back on Davis' 62-yard reception with 1:39 left in the half. However, Wegher went 79 yards three snaps later to give the Mustangs a 42-21 halftime lead.

"They're so talented on offense that we needed not to give them those opportunities," like a short field, Troth said.

The Vikings moved the ball on the opening series of the third period, Reyes completing three passes for 32 yards and running for 12, but officials ruled Johnson out-of-bounds on an apparent catch in the corner of the end zone and a fourth-down pass was picked off by junior Zac Schleuger.

"You can't waste opportunities," Troth said. "It looked like a catch, but we didn't get it."

Another call went against Valley later in the period when senior Michael Barnes forced a fumble at the end of sophomore Jason Vander Kooi's 42-yard catch. The ball rolled across the goal line and, although it seemed to bounce over the sideline before being recovered by Vander Kooi, it was ruled a touchdown.

The Vikings scored on a 28-yard pass to sophomore Steven Ellefson early in the final frame, but Morningside ran off nearly six minutes of clock before Kasdorf's fifth TD toss went to junior Kendall Lindeman for 3 yards.

"When you're playing good teams, you've got to make plays," Troth said. "We, quite simply, didn't make enough."

With the two highest-ranked teams in the playoff handed upset losses, the Mustangs (10-2) are the second-highest seeded team remaining in the playoffs and will host No. 7 Marian (Ind.) on Saturday.

Valley (9-3) was eliminated from the post-season in the quarterfinals for the second year in a row, ending another successful campaign in which it captured its fourth straight Heart of America Conference championship.

"From where we started to where we ended up, we saw quite an improvement," Troth asserted. "That's all you can ask from your guys."

Contact Chris Allen at callen@marshallnews.com

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