Morningside defense is scary

Not that long ago, Morningside changed its mascot from the Chiefs to the Mustangs. Judging by the football team’s defense, the school should have went probably went with something a little more menacing.

Montana Tech will face a football team that is downright scary Saturday in the first round of the NAIA playoffs at Elwood Olsen Stadium in Sioux City, Iowa. Kickoff is at noon (Mountain time). The game will be carried live on KBOW 550 AM.

The Orediggers face a tall, tall task Saturday when they go up against a Morningside defense that is regarded as one of, if not the best defense in the NAIA.

The Mustangs’ numbers are flat out sick.

Morningside is ranked No. 1 in the nation in points allowed per game, yards allowed per game and rushing yards per game. The Mustangs are No. 2 in the NAIA in getting off the field on third down.

The Mustangs have surrendered just 57 points. Those 5.7 points per game are easily the best in the nation. Missouri Valley is No. 2 in that category with 12.3 points per game.

Opponents scored just seven touchdowns and three field goals in 10 games, in which the Mustangs went 10-0 to win the Great Plains Athletic Conference title.

Morningside surrendered just 227.6 yards per game during the season, including just 43.3 yards per game on the ground.

“Their defense is absolutely one of the best we’ve seen this year,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “One through 11, the guys that they put out there, on film, they just don’t have any glaring weaknesses. They’re all solid football players, all the way through.”

Morningside picked off 18 passes this year, with senior Jared Goforth leading the way with seven. The team has four players who registered double digits in tackles for a loss, led by juniors Marcus Smith and Aaron Roberg with 11.

“From their D line to their linebacking corps to their secondary, they’re a very cohesive group,” Morrell said of the Mustangs, who run a 3-4 defense. “The thing that keeps popping out is their level of disciple on a snap-to-snap basis. You just don’t see them give up garbage plays. They don’t miss very many tackles. They run to the ball very well. I definitely know our offense is going to have their hands full.”

The Orediggers head to Iowa boasting the Frontier Conference’s No. 2 scoring defense, averaging 32 points per game.

Tech’s spread offense is about as balanced as it gets.

Junior quarterback Nick Baker, who beat out classmate Brian Schwarzkoph for the starting job in camp, completes 67 percent of his passes. He threw for 2,663 yards and 26 touchdown during the regular season. Baker was picked off 12 times.

Five different Tech receivers caught at least 25 passes.

Senior Trent Thomas hauled in 61 receptions for 668 yards and five touchdowns, while junior Zack Kinney caught 56 passes for 621 yards and four touchdowns.

Sophomore running back Pat Hansen, caught 39 passes for 208 yards, while junior Kevin Moss added 35 catches and 411 yards. Also, 6-foot-5 junior James Roberts, a former defensive end, caught 25 passes for 25 yards and seven touchdowns.

Hansen, who had 270 total touches, is ranked No. 15 in the nation with 1,085 yards. He averages 4.7 yards per carry and 108.5 yards per game behind an offensive line that employs up to 10 guys in any particular game.

Morningside hasn’t given up a point since its 53-23 Oct. 20 win over Hastings (Neb.). Since, the Mustangs beat Dordt (Iowa), Concordia (Neb.) and Briar Cliff (Iowa) by a combined score of 153-0.

Of course, it should be pointed out that the Morningside schedule isn’t nearly as difficult as the one the Frontier Conference Orediggers played.

The Mustangs’ last three opponents had a combined record of 7-26 in 2012

Morrell, though, said that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Mustangs.

“They’re obviously going to be chomping at the bit to play some strong competition. They’re going to show up and really come after us,” Morrell said. “The spent the last couple, three weeks of the season playing against the bottom teams in the conference. They’re going to be really excited about playing against us.”