Tigers face tough road test in Morningside
SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- A year ago, Morningside (Iowa) handed Dakota Wesleyan University its worst loss in Ross Cimpl’s tenure, a 69-0 rout at Joe Quintal Field.
Even with no NAIA national rankings this year, Morningside presents the same goliath challenges one would expect from the back-to-back national champions. If not ranked No. 1 during a normal year through another 4-0 start, the Mustangs would be close to the NAIA’s top spot.
Meanwhile, DWU (1-4) returned to action last week with a 50-14 loss to Midland (Neb.). Now, it heads back on the road at 1 p.m. today to take on the Great Plains Athletic Conference’s best, which has outscored it 211-34 in the last three meetings.
“Obviously Morningside is going to present enough challenges with what they’re able to do and the talent they have,” DWU coach Ross Cimpl said. “If we’re going to make it even easier on them by making mistakes or not being in the spots we need to be, we’re going to be in for a very long day.”
Healthier on offense
DWU returns starting quarterback Zachary Lester and left tackle T.J. Benton for the opening kickoff this week, as well as backup receiver Preston Emerson. Lester relieved Mitchell native Kiel Nelson midway through the fourth quarter against Midland, with Cimpl noting his inability to practice while being quarantined during the week as the reason he didn’t start.
Lester threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Determan on his first drive, but also threw a pick-six later in the game.
“We got to continue to make progress and make good decisions,” Cimpl said. “At that time, things weren’t going extremely well for us. Things weren’t extremely efficient for us, so we had to make a change.”
Lester and Benton both returning to the lineup signifies one of the healthiest weeks the offense has experienced this year.
It faces a defense that has allowed a GPAC-best 12 points per game, including Midland, Briar Cliff (Iowa) and Jamestown (N.D.) all being held to seven points or less. Morningside outscored its last three opponents, 164-17.
Even with its quarterback, left tackle and numerous playmakers all ready to suit up, the Tigers are still searching for consistency on offense. They rank eighth in the conference at 15.2 points per game.
“Got to continue to find the right mix and the right balance of what we need to do offensively to put points on the board and maintain drives,” Cimpl said.
Walton provides ‘next guy up’ at linebacker
In his first significant action this season, Jaiden Walton picked up the slack for a thinning linebacker group. Tziah Owens was sidelined with a neck injury, while Mitchell native Cody Reichelt hasn’t played since Week 1.
Walton, a freshman, finished with a team-high eight tackles for the Tigers.
“We need a guy to come in and play and get the job done, and he did a nice job for us at times,” Cimpl said. “... He’s kind of the next guy up in that rotation for us, so we had to have him in there. It was nice to see him get involved in some plays.”
Walton is one of four underclassmen listed to start this week. Similar to defense, Morningside has a bevy of playmakers when it has the ball. Joe Dolincheck (332 yards per game) is second in the GPAC in passing, Arnijae Ponder (81.5 yards per game) is fourth in rushing and Reid Jurgensmeier leads all receivers with 600 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
Cimpl is ready to learn how his team handles adversity against the high-powered offense.
“Are we able to focus on what we need to do and at least give us a chance to battle and fight in the game and try to make plays?” Cimpl said. “Or are we going to concede the fact they’re really good.”