Morningside and St. Ambrose survived slow starts to the season to make the NAIA national playoffs. Morningside opens at Jamestown of North Dakota, but a fourth straight trip to the playoffs seemed like a long shot after the Mustangs opened 2-2.
"At that time, we still had three tough ballgames on our schedule. We knew we were going to have to get better each and every week," Morningside coach Steve Ryan says. "…This team’s really developed a great attitude toward practice."
The Mustangs finished the regular season 8-2 and this game will feature two oustanding defenses according to the coach. "In many ways they’re similar to us," Ryan says of Jamestown. "…They’ve got some really good playmakers on both sides of the ball."
The Morningside defense has forced 37 turnovers this season and Ryan says that has been a big part of their six-game winning streak. "In our two losses, I think we threw seven interceptions," he says. "…As we look at that, we know how important turn-overs are."
Saturday’s forecast calls for a chance of snow and Ryan says holding onto the ball becomes even more important.
After a 1-2 start St. Ambrose reeled off seven straight wins and opens at St. Xavier of Illinois. "We developed a level of consistency as the year went along," says first year St. Ambrose coach Mike Magistrelli. "…Obviously, it showed up in the win column."
The Fighting Bees have taken advantage of their opponent’s mistakes. They are at plus-24 in turnover margin. "We played good defense all year long and we’ve done a nice job of defending the run and doing a great job in the passing game of creating turn-overs — interceptions, fumbles and that type of thing….and then on offense we’ve done a good job of protecting the football," he says.
These two teams have not met this year, but they are familiar with each other. "This is the first year that they’ve moved over to the other half of our conference…We’ve played them the last several years during the regular season," Magistrelli says. "…We’ve got a lot of kids from the Chicagoland area and I know our kids are real excited to play them and we’re happy with that draw as far as plya-off match-up."
Magistrelli says St. Xavier has great athletes on both sides of the ball, leading the league in rushing defense. "We know we’ll have our hands full," he says.