The 2018 National Championship game was everything a national championship game should be. Two teams going back and forth, throwing haymakers, seeing which one will flinch first. At the end of the night, it was the Benedictine Ravens that swayed and eventually fell. All in all, it was a game worthy of the occasion – the crowning of a champion.
How it happened: 1st Half
In the first quarter, the Ravens struck first with a 26-yard play-action pass. The Mustangs were looking run out of the gate, and a couple of explosive play-action passes caught Morningside off guard. But the Mustangs fired back a shot of their own, finding, who else but Connor Niles on a 44-yard touchdown pass. The Mustangs weren’t done, though. They drove down the field and showed off their run game, feeding AP for a touchdown run. Not to be outdone, the Ravens added a rushing touchdown of their own, a 3-yarder by Marquis Stewart.
At that point, I thought my pregame prediction would make me look like a fool. And then the 2nd quarter started, and the respective defenses decided they’d show out.
Benedictine forced NAIA Player of the Year Trent Solsma to throw two interceptions in the quarter, which the Ravens turned into a pair of field goals. The Ravens’ bend-but-don’t-break defense and the Mustangs’ commitment to the running game made 3-and-outs a common occurrence. Benedictine would go to the locker room up 6 points.
Coming out of halftime, the Mustangs came out firing. A 80-yard bomb to Niles 2 plays into halftime gave them the lead, then another touchdown pass to Jurgensmeyer, and the Mustangs were up by 8, 28-20. Benedictine drove the field, but came up empty on some shaky 4th-down math.
But in the 4th Quarter, we saw the return of the Benedictine rushing attack. The Ravens relied heavily on Marquis Stewart to score, then forced Morningside to punt it right back with just under 5 minutes left. But a holding call and a stout Mustang defense forced a punt. And then the worst happened.
It was muffed.
Morningside recovered at the 18-yard line with 2:25 left in the game. Connor Niles. Trent Solsma. Again. Solsma found Niles in the back corner of the end zone for the touchdown to take a 7-point lead with 1:29 left. From then, the Ravens could not pull off the miracle, and the Tom Osborne Trophy will find its way to Sioux City, IA for the next year.
Congratulations to the Morningside Mustangs for winning another instant classic of a game, this one, for all the marbles.