Preview: Morningside and Wisconsin-Whitewater Square Off Thursday on ESPN3

UW-WhitewaterMorningside_IAPreview by Morningside Sports Information Director Dave Rebstock
The Matchup

Morningside College (3-0) is a NAIA member of the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) and is ranked No. 1 in the nation in the NAIA Football Coaches’ Top 25 Poll. The Mustangs come off a banner 2014 season where they posted an 11-2 record, won a fourth consecutive GPAC championship, and advanced to the semifinals of the NAIA Football Championship Series. The Mustangs are one of the nation’s most successful football teams since the start of the 2004 season with a record of 115-23 for a .833 winning percentage and 11 consecutive post-season berths in the NAIA Championship Series for the nation’s longest current active streak. The Mustangs have advanced to at least the NAIA Semifinals each of the last three years, including an appearance in the 2012 Russell Athletic-NAIA Football National Championship Game, where they lost 30-27 in overtime against Marian University.

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (2-0) is a NCAA Division III member of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WSIC). The two-time reigning NCAA III National Champion Warhawks are ranked No. 1 in the nation in the NCAA III. Wisconsin-Whitewater finished 15-0 last season and defeated the University of Mount Union 43-34 in Stagg Bowl XLII to win the NCAA III National Championship for the sixth time in the last eight years. The Warhawks are riding a 34-game winning streak for the longest active winning streak in all of collegiate football. The Warhawks have won nine of the last 10 WSIC titles and have a 69-3 record for a .958 winning percentage since the start of the 2010 campaign.

The Coaches
Steve Ryan (Wheaton 1989) is in his 14th season as Morningside’s head coach. Ryan has a 123-35 record for a .778 winning percentage with the Mustangs for the most victories and the highest victory rate in school history. Ryan has led the Mustangs to five GPAC championships and 11 consecutive appearances in the NAIA Championship Series. He was named the 2012 American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and American Football Monthly 2012 NAIA National Coach of the Year, the 2004 NAIA National Coach of the Year, and is a four-time GPAC Coach of the Year and four-time AFCA NAIA Region 4 Coach of the Year.

Kevin Bullis (Minnesota-Morris 1989) is in his first season as the Warhawks’ head coach and as a collegiate head coach. Bullis replaced Lance Leipold, who became the head coach at the University of Buffalo. Bullis had been an assistant coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater for the previous seven seasons and was the Warhawks’ defensive run game coordinator and defensive line coach during the 2014 campaign. Before coming to Whitewater, Bullis was the defensive coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls from 1995-2007. He has also been an assistant coach at Gustavus Adolphus College and the University of Minnesota-Morris.

2015 Morningside Schedule (3-0 Record)
Morningside 77, Sterling 17
Morningside 86, Nebraska Wesleyan 10
Morningside 49, Dordt 0
Sept. 24- Wisconsin-Whitewater, 6:04 p.m.
Oct. 3- at Northwestern, 1 p.m.
Oct. 10- Hastings (Homecoming), 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 17- at Dakota Wesleyan, 1 p.m.
Oct. 24- Briar Cliff, 1 p.m.
Oct. 31- at Concordia, 1 p.m.
Nov. 7- at Midland, 1 p.m.
Nov.14- Doane, 1 p.m.

2015 Wisconsin-Whitewater Schedule (2-0 Record)
Wisconsin-Whitewater 62, Bellhaven 6
Wisconsin-Whitewater 66, Finlandia 3
Sept. 24- at Morningside, 6:04 p.m.
Oct. 3- Wisconsin-Platteville, 1 p.m.
Oct. 10- at Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 1 p.m.
Oct. 16- Wisconsin-La Crosse, 7 p.m.
Oct. 24- at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 1 p.m.
Oct. 31- Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 1 p.m.
Nov. 7- at Wisconsin-River Falls, 1 p.m.
Nov. 14- Wisconsin-Stout, 2 p.m.

Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) Standings
1.Morningside, Dakota Wesleyan, Doane, and Northwestern, 2-0; 5.Briar Cliff and Concordia, 1-1; 7.Dordt, Hastings, Midland, and Nebraska Wesleyan, 0-2.

Last Time Out
Morningside posted its first shutout victory of the season with a 49-0 triumph against Dordt College last Saturday in Sioux Center, Iowa.

The Mustangs limited the Defenders to 223 yards total offense. Christian Walker blocked a Dordt field goal attempt in the second quarter and the Mustangs held the Defenders on downs on five other occasions in Morningside territory. Zac Schleuger collected a game-high 13 tackles for the Mustangs’ defense. Ethan Stofferan was next with eight tackles, including 1.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage for losses of 13 yards.

Connor Niles had the most productive game of his Morningside career with six pass receptions for a career-high 172 yards and three touchdowns with scoring catches of 27, 45, and 59 yards from Ryan Kasdorf, plus returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown.

Kasdorf completed 11 of 16 pass attempts for 220 yards and four touchdowns, while Tyler Kavan paced the rushing attack with 99 yards in only eight carries.

Wisconsin-Whitewater broke a school record with eight rushing touchdowns in last Saturday’s 66-3 blowout victory against Finlandia University. The Warhawks rushed for 392 yards for their fourth 300-yard rushing performance in their last 14 games dating back to last season.

The Warhawks finished the game with 555 yards total offense and held Finlandia to just 80 yards, including only 24 yards rushing in 30 attempts. Bryce Leszcynski led the Warhawks’ defensive effort with 10 tackles and a pair of quarterback sacks.

The Series
Wisconsin-Whitewater defeated Morningside 24-7 on Oct. 13, 1979, in the only prior meeting between the two teams. The game was played in Mexico City in a contest arranged by the NAIA to promote the growth of American football in Mexico. Wisconsin-Whitewater was a member of the NAIA in 1979, while Morningside shared membership with the NAIA and the NCAA Division II.

Morningside has an all-time record of 1-3 against teams from the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC). The other three contests against WIAC opponents were all against the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Morningside has lost its last two games against teams from the WIAC since a 28-21 victory against Wisconsin-Stevens Point to open the 1975 season.

Morningside Notes
The No. 1-ranked Mustangs are averaging 70.7 points and 696.3 yards total offense per game to lead the nation in both categories. Morningside had the most prolific offense in NAIA history last season when it set national records with averages of 55.5 points and 662.2 yards total offense per game. . .Morningside leads the nation in total defense and passing defense with averages of 180.7 and 60.3 yards per game, respectively. The Mustangs are second in the nation in scoring defense with an average of 9.0 points per game. . .Connor Niles is this week’s GPAC Special Teams Player of the Week after he had three punt returns for 87 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown run back, in the Mustangs’ 49-0 win against Dordt. Niles also had a huge game on offense with six pass receptions for a career-high 172 yards and three touchdowns. He had touchdown receptions of 27, 45, and 59 yards from Ryan Kasdorf. Niles has caught 20 passes for 328 yards and five touchdowns to rank ninth in the nation with averages of 6.7 receptions and 109.3 reception yards per game. He is fifth in the nation in punt returns with an average of 23.6 yards per return. . .Kasdorf, a two-time All-American, also hurled a seven-yard touchdown pass to Briar Evans and finished with 220 yards passing against Dordt. Kasdorf raised his total to 86 career touchdown passes to move within three of the Morningside record of 89 touchdown passes by 2006 graduate Craig Fobbe. Kasdorf has completed 49 of 65 pass attempts (75.4 percent) for 810 yards and 10 touchdowns without an interception so far this season to top the NAIA in pass efficiency for the third year in a row. He is 10th in the nation with averages of 270.0 yards passing and 293.3 yards total offense per game. With 979 yards rushing, Kasdorf is poised to become the first quarterback in Morningside history to rush for 1000 career yards. . .Zac Schleuger, a returning second-team USA College Football All-American, had a game-high 13 tackles, including eight solo stops, in the Dordt game for the 12th double figure tackle performance of his Morningside career. He has 21 tackles through three games to top the Mustangs’ tackle chart for the third year in a row. . .Tyler Kavan broke loose for a 66-yard touchdown run on the Mustangs’ first offensive play from scrimmage in the Dordt game. Kavan finished with 99 yards in just eight attempts for an average of 12.4 yards per carry. Kavan has rushed for 231 yards, four touchdowns, and an average of 8.0 yards per carry. . .Freshman Weslee Dvorak is the Mustangs’ leading rusher with 283 yards and four touchdowns and is averaging 7.4 yards per carry. . .Ethan Stofferan and Chase Reis combined on a quarterback sack against Dordt and are the Mustangs’ co-leaders with three tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Wisconsin-Whitewater Notes
The Warhawks are riding a 34-game winning streak for the longest active win streak in all of collegiate football. The Warhawks’ last loss was a 17-14 setback at Wisconsin-Stevens Point on Oct. 27, 2012. . .Wisconsin-Whitewater has played in the NCAA III title game nine times in the last 10 years. The Warhawks’ opponent in all nine of their Stagg Bowl appearances was Mount Union. . .The Warhawks are averaging 64.0 points and 463.5 yards total offense per game, while their opponents are averaging only 4.5 points and 138.0 yards total offense per contest. . .Wisconsin-Whitewater has seven starters back on both sides of the ball from a team that went 15-0 and won the 2014 NCAA III National Championship with a 43-34 victory against Mount Union in Stagg Bowl XLII. . .The Warhawks return all five starters in an offensive line that averages 298 lbs. per player. The group’s leader is senior offensive guard Conner Peters, a returning first-team NCAA III All-American. . .Defensive end Zach Franz is also a returning first-team All-American following a 2014 season where he had seven quarterback sacks and 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage for losses of 52 yards. . .The Warhawks return all three of their starting linebackers, including second-team All-American Justin Dischler, who led the team with 93 tackles and six forced fumbles last year. . .The Warhawks’ running game packs a potent one-two punch in Dennis Moore, who rushed for 1107 yards and five touchdowns, and Jordan Ratliffe, who ran for 950 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Matt Patterson, who ran for 539 yards and seven touchdowns and led the team with an average of 6.9 yards per carry last year, is also back. Ratliffe leads the team so far this season with 161 yards and three touchdowns in 15 attempts for an average of 10.7 yards per carry. . .Junior quarterback Chris Nelson has completed nine of 13 pass attempts for 121 yards and two touchdowns through the first two starts of his career. He completed 22 of 37 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns and played in all 15 games as the team’s backup last season. . .The Warhawks’ top pass target is Joe Worth, who was their third leading receiver last year with 47 catches for 526 yards and four touchdowns.

Up Next
Morningside will return to GPAC action with a 1 p.m. game against nationally ranked Northwestern College on Saturday, Oct. 3, in Orange City, Iowa. The Red Raiders are ranked 10th in the latest NAIA Football Coaches’ Top 25 Poll.

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