Players shake off cold to contend for national title chance
Like a lot of deer hunters last week, I was trying to ignore the elements while attending to duties.
Temperature at kickoff at Williams Stadium in Des Moines Saturday was 8 degrees as No. 5-ranked Morningside, which includes sophomore receiver Alan Smith of Creston, squared off against No. 2 Grand View for the right to play in the NAIA national title game.
Among the 3,500 fans huddled in the ice-cold bleachers was Morningside freshman Briar Evans of Creston, redshirting this football season, along with his family.
Smith was in the regular rotation of receivers relaying plays into the Mustang huddle, so he was moving around and competing. I’m sure that helped him block out the cold a little.
But, on the other hand, he wasn’t wearing the four layers of shirts, hooded sweatshirt and Iowa Hawkeyes parka with a stocking cap like I was. I was also equipped with hand warmers in my gloves, and toe warmers inside my boots.
The guys running around with no sleeves, like former Iowa running back Brandon Wegher of the Mustangs, were either out-of-this-world tough, or downright crazy.
Grand View coach Mike Woodley, a former Iowa State assistant, called the temperature “brutal.”
Fortunately, winds were calm and it was mostly sunny, so standing on the east sideline with Morningside facing the sun almost made it seem like a decent day. That is, until I took my gloves off from time to time while operating my camera. Then I was reminded that careless behavior could lead to frostbite in no time.
The teams had portable heaters blowing toward the benches where units would gather after coming off the field, but it seemed to be a losing battle.
“Keeping your hands warm was the toughest thing,” Smith said after Morningside was blanked 35-0. “Today it was also trying to keep my legs warm. I’ve had a leg injury with my IT band, and it was tough trying to keep it warm. A lot of the guys didn’t wear sleeves or one pair in practice this week to get used to it. Then when we come out here it feels warmer than it actually is.”
“I really didn’t notice the cold while I was playing,” said Wegher, who rushed for 99 yards on 19 carries in the loss. He once ran for 113 yards and a touchdown in a much warmer setting for the Hawks — the 2010 Orange Bowl win against Georgia Tech.
Wegher turned 23 years old Monday. He’s had a bumpy road to this point, including brushes with the law and short, unproductive stays at Oklahoma and Iowa Western Community College.
Technically, Wegher is only a sophomore, so he could return next season. But he’s still weighing his options.
“Hopefully, I’ll be back next year,” he said. “I’ve got to sit down and look at my options. If my career ended today, I’d be happy — playing with these guys. They’re a great bunch of guys.”
Smith echoed the same sentiments. Last year his foot was in a boot with broken bones as he watched the Mustangs fall in the national title game in Rome, Ga. This year he had hoped to be on the field in the same setting.
Instead, it’s the 13-0 Grand View Vikings taking on No. 1 Cumberlands (Ky.) on Dec. 21 at the same location.
“It’s been an honor to pad up with these guys and play on the field with them,” Smith said. “This senior class will be one to remember.”
Among the returnees next year will be quarterback Ryan Kasdorf, who was injured in the fourth quarter of the team’s quarterfinal win over Baker. He did not play Saturday, spelled by Derrick Dison most of the game and Caleb Kluender near the end.
“Yeah, we were looking a lot more for the quarterback keepers and read option stuff with Dison today,” Smith said. “Grand View is probably better than we expected them to be. They have an unreal defense and their offense can make plays.”
The Mustangs (11-2) entered the contest with the best offense in the nation, averaging more than 49 points and nearly 600 yards per game. On Saturday they were limited to 245 yards and no points. Dison was sacked eight times while completing 13-of-21 passing for 80 yards. None were directed at Smith, although Dison was looking his way before one of the sacks.
Grand View quarterback Derek Fulton of Bettendorf and receiver Brady Roland of Carlisle led the Vikings’ offensive attack. Fulton passed for 312 yards and two touchdowns to Roland, who finished as the player of the game with seven catches for 146 yards.
Morningside football coach Steve Ryan, brother of Sue Maitlen of Creston, said it just wasn’t a good day of execution by his team.
On this day, Grand View was the better team.
“We missed some open receivers early on and it just kind of got away from us,” Ryan told Terry Hersom of the Sioux City Journal.
With a healthy Kasdorf, and two former Creston/O-M Panthers on the team, next year the Mustangs could be knocking on the door to Rome (Ga.) again.
It won’t be quite that cold this weekend in Maryville, Mo., but another former Panther is playing for a chance to be in a national championship game.
Iowa State transfer Collin Bevins figures to be back in action, at least part-time, for the Northwest Missouri State University defensive line in a Division II semifinal game against Grand Valley State at Bearcat Stadium.
Bevins sat out last week’s 59-21 quarterfinal victory over St. Cloud State with an MCL knee sprain. But I got confirmation Thursday that he will get on the field Saturday, at least part-time, when the 13-0 Bearcats take on 12-2 Grand Valley State.
Northwest has faced Grand Valley four times in the playoffs. Three were in the championship game.
The two teams are 2-2 against each other, including the memorable 34-16 victory by Northwest in the semifinals on Dec. 8, 2007 on an icy field at Bearcat Stadium in sub zero wind chill conditions. Dane Wardenburg of Creston was an offensive tackle for the Bearcats then.
The game is on ESPN3 at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. Bevins wears No. 34. There’s Internet audio at www.northwestbearcats.com.
The winner advances to the title game Dec. 21 in Florence, Ala., against West Chester or Lenoir-Rhyne.
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