Jason Dannelly: Two Weeks Left Until the NAIA Football Regular Season Ends

Brandon Wegher of Morningside

Brandon Wegher of Morningside

My first year covering the NAIA as a true national journalist was 2002. I knew the teams and the conferences, kinda. And I knew who was good, sorta. But when this time of year came around I found myself scrambling to try to figure out what the heck was going on in each conference. I made bold predictions that made me look like an idiot and I guaranteed outcomes that I had no business commenting on.

12 years later . . . not much has changed!

The NAIA postseason is taking shape. If you want to be a part of it, don’t have three losses. It’s been nearly impossible through the years to make the postseason with three losses, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t happen.

Where we see the exception is typically in conferences where teams are forced to play a lot of games outside of their league schedule. The Central States Football League is the most notable in this department and unless Langston wins out they will be left without a postseason rep once again. The Lions are 5-3 and finish up against Bacone and SAGU, the next best teams in the league over the next two weeks.

It’s crazy to think back just a few weeks and think about what the rest of the season looked like for Tabor College and Baker University. On September 29th, Baker was No. 2 and received one first place vote while Tabor was positioned right behind them at No. 3. Tabor went on to lose three of their next four with only one of the losses to a rated team. The dream of a perfect season had ended. Tabor looks to have balanced things out with a 35-14 win over Bethany but will have a big test the final week of the season against Ottawa.

Times also changed pretty quickly for the Baker Wildcats. Two weeks ago they were undefeated and in the conversation for a national title. Today, they are on a two game losing streak and trying to finish the season strong enough to make the postseason while mourning the loss of a teammate. It’s been a a rough go at BU, but they have the type of people that will pull through.

Elsewhere in the HAAC, MidAmerica Nazarene has emerged as one of the best in the conference and are nearly back to their old form of winning HAAC titles. Currently the Pioneers are 6-1 in the HAAC with an advantage over Missouri Valley who shares the same record in conference. MNU faces off against Benedictine this week.

The only game of the season that matters this season in the GPAC is this weekend in Sioux City. The NAIA’s best team, Morningside, hosts Northwestern (Iowa). The Red Raiders bring a 7-1 record to town and look to be the only team in the GPAC that can challenge the Mustangs. After losing the opening game of the season on the road, Northwestern has rattled off seven straight wins and have steadily improved throughout the season. I still think Morningside is head and shoulders better than Northwestern but it is a rivalry and you never know what might happen in these late season games.

It’s strange to look at the NAIA standings this late in the season and not see at least two or three teams with unbeaten records. Currently it’s only Morningside and then eight one loss teams. I think Carroll, Grand View and Southern Oregon are the next best in the country and all capable of bringing home a national title.

I’m not trying to throw anyone under the bus, but what is the deal with the DakStats national statistics? For example, DakStats has Carroll College at 6-2 with two losses to Southern Oregon. Meanwhile SOU shows as 7-1 with their only loss showing to MSU-Northern? Also, congrats to Connor Greth of Montana Western who nailed a 107 yard field goal against Rocky Mountain.

It begs the question that if those glaring errors are on the site, what else is wrong? And while I am on my “web site” soapbox are there any sites out there that don’t have 5000 things in motion on them at the same time? There’s nothing more annoying than seeing a web site you want to read on a story, trying to click it but before you are able to it changes to a new story. Seriously, I can’t be the only one who wants to scream “STOP ADDING CRAP TO YOUR WEBSITE!”

What Did I Miss?
Last week I did not write an article because I wanted to devote my promotional efforts to helping spread the word about the tragic passing of Elise Wasylk, wife of former Saint Francis (Ind.) running back Doug Wasylk. Elise gave birth to a son, Tucker Dean, before complications arouse and she passed away. Over $72,000 has been raised in the last week. Not bad considering the goal was just $5000. Thanks to everyone who contributed and remember you can still make a donation to help out. http://www.gofundme.com/gbgv74

Evidently one of the things I missed was the 91 points Lindsey Wilson put up on Belhaven. Seriously, how does that even happen? LWC scored several times on defense and put up a meager 525 yards of total offense in the win. When you think of the total number of points the yardage total definitely seems low until you calculate in the six interceptions.

Belhaven’s six interceptions do not come close to Saint Mary (Kan.) who threw nine interceptions against Sterling College. QB Marcas Mata of the Spires was 24-47 for 410 yards, two touchdowns and of course nine INTs. Sterling won that game 34-24.

Brandon Wegher of Morningside had five touchdowns last weekend against Concordia (Neb.). He has 26 on the season with two games remaining. The NAIA single season record for touchdowns is 32 and Wegher is on pace to break that mark. He is also averaging nine yards per carry, which he is also on pace to break that single season record if he finishes with more than 200 attempts.

In most years, we’d be saying to just give Wegher the award for national player of the year. But Southern Oregon’s Austin Dodge is having every bit of an MVP season as Wegher. Dodge is averaging over 364 yards of total offense has 33 touchdowns this season. Not to mention it seems like every week he is breaking some sort of career passing record in the NAIA. He’s going to finish his career as one of the all-time best QBs in the NAIA and has the type of team this year that is capable of winning a national title.

Ottawa University through the years has been known to have one of the most proficient passing offenses in the country. So it is a bit surprising to see RB Luke Lundy rattle off 263 yards last weekend against Kansas Wesleyan. Lundy hasn’t been quiet this season, rushing for more than 100 yards in all but one game. It’s just a little different seeing OU with a running game as a leader in national statistics and not a passing game. In the end, 7-2 still looks the same with a shot at the postseason.

This Week in NAIA Football
Grand View @ William Penn: Since GV started football, this rivalry has grown into one of the best in the NAIA. With the game in Oskaloosa, expect it to be closer than you think. GV 24 WPU 21.

Rocky Mountain at Carroll College: Rocky has to win to make the postseason. There is no other way around it. Carroll College gets this one at home and should be able to hold onto get the win. CC 35 Rocky 21.

Northwestern at Morningside: Easily the best game of the year in the GPAC. Northwestern is tetering on the edge of not making the postseason depending on how this game goes. Obviously a win puts them in, a close loss gets them in but a blowout loss might make the GPAC a one team postseason conference. Morningside 42 Northwestern 14.

Benedictine at MidAmerica Nazarene: MNU is making their rise back to dominance under first year head coach Brian Willmer. Benedictine is fighting for their postseason lives this week. On paper this is the best game of the week in the NAIA. MNU 28 Benedictine 21

Friends at Ottawa: Guess what, another year that Friends and Ottawa will determine which of the two will be sitting pretty to make the postseason and which will be struggling to stay alive. I see OU with the edge in this one.

SAGU (Texas) at Langston: Langston has to win to make the postseason. Otherwise they’re out of the Top 25 and won’t be able to make the needed jump to claim the automatic berth into the postseason. I think they’ll get it done this week at home. LU 24 SAGU 10

Valley City State at Presentation: VCSU is 8-1 and needs to keep forward momentum to get into the postseason. Presentation is 6-3 and slowly rising in the new North Star Athletic Association. I think VCSU is the best the conference has and wins this game by two scores. VCSU 31 Presentation 17.

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