If Montana Tech can shut down Morningside’s high-powered offense Saturday, the Orediggers will have to give an assist to the Western Bulldogs.
And the Southern Oregon Raiders. And the Carroll College Saints. And the MSU-Northern Lights.
The Orediggers will face a “dynamic” offensive threat Saturday when they open the NAIA national playoffs in Sioux City, Iowa. By now, that’s something the Orediggers are used to.
“You look in the Frontier Conference, and there is a lot of dynamic offensive weapons,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “Our guys had to deal with Rashad Peniston,” Morrell said of Western’s big-play receiver. “They had to deal with Southern Oregon’s guys. Northern has three or four great receivers and a great quarterback. It’s nothing new for us to deal with some quality people across from us. We’ve seen them all year. That’s going to pay dividends. We’ve gone every week and seen some unbelievable athletes on the other side of the ball from us, and we’ve dealt with it OK.”
The guy the No. 14-ranked Orediggers have to deal with this week is No. 10, Joel Nixon. The senior quarterback was named the Great Plains Athletic Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year this week.
The 6-foot, 205-pound Nixon passed for 2,777 yards while leading the No. 3 Mustangs to the GPAC title with a 10-0 record. In those 10 games — many that were basically over by halftime — Nixon threw for 37 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.
Nixon, who started his Morningside career as a receiver, is also the team’s leading rusher. He averages 5.5 yards per carry and has rushed for 516 yards and two touchdowns.
“It reminds me so much of Derek Lear,” Morrell said, referring to Northern’s quarterback. “The quarterback is so dangerous when he’s out of the pocket. He can pull it down, he can run with it. His wide receivers are going to break off routs and run deep, and he’s going to put the ball on the money.
“Some of their best things offensively happen when the quarter is out of the pocket,” Morrell added. “That’s a major source of concern for us.”
Nixon’s favorite weapon is fullback/receiver hybrid Joel McCabe, who leads the team with 60 receptions for 970 yards and 14 touchdowns. Fellow junior Kyle Schuck caught 42 passes for 679 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The Mustangs also have three rushing threats aside from the dangerous quarterback. Sophomore Jon Halverson, junior Josh Gaedke and senior Fred Jones all have at least 89 rushes. Halverson leads that group with 479 yards and nine touchdowns.
“They’ve definitely got some dynamic guys offensively that they can move the football with,” Morrell said. “They like to run the football. They want to establish their ground game. Their ground game sets up their play-action pass. That’s really 1 and 1A, rushing attack and play-action pass.”
The Orediggers see last week’s 46-28 loss at Southern Oregon as an abnormality. The defense had been stingy pretty much all year.
Lineman Jacob Workman, Logan Sims and Mike Waldman stand before a talented group of linebackers, led by Joe Semansky, Mike Touzinsky, Niall Padden and David Meis.
Morrell is confident his secondary will hold up, despite the fact the Orediggers are playing without junior Devonte Craig, who tore an ACL in the Northern win.
Junior Luke Seubert and lock-down senior Ketwuan Frank start at cornerback. Junior receiver Zack Kinney also saw some time at cornerback last week.
The starting Tech safeties are senior Nathan Kobold and sophomore Nate Thompson.
“I feel good. Our secondary has been very solid,” Morrell said. “Obviously, across the board team-wise we didn’t have a great game Saturday. Our secondary has been very consistent all season. They’re a pretty disciplined crew.”
Morrell is confident because he’s seen his guys hold down playmakers all year.
“If you’re not a disciple secondary, you’re going to have a lot of problems with their offense just because of the amount of misdirection, play-action pass stuff and the amount of big plays happening out there,” Morrell said. “My guys are disciplined. They’re going to be locked in and ready to play.”