It has often seemed like the Morningside College football stadium and Northwest Missouri State’s stadium have been my homes away from home, considering the number of Creston athletes who have played for the Mustangs and Bearcats, respectively.
Plus, in recent years I covered the Creston/O-M Panthers in two playoff games in Sioux City, once at Morningside’s stadium and once at Bishop Heelan’s home stadium.
While offensive tackle Dane Wardenburg and defensive end Collin Bevins of Creston played on NCAA Division II national championship teams at Northwest Missouri State, Morningside has come agonizingly close on multiple occasions with former Creston/O-M Panthers on its roster.
Until last week, that is.
Sophomore defensive end Seth Maitlen of Creston, nephew of Morningside head coach Steve Ryan, was a starter in Saturday’s 35-28 victory over Benedictine (Kansas) in the NAIA title game in Daytona Beach, Florida. We ran a feature story on that accomplishment in Wednesday’s News Advertiser, accompanied by photos taken at the game by former CNA sports editor Matt Pfiffner, who now works at the Citrus County Chronicle in Florida.
It was great to hear the joy in Seth’s voice as I interviewed him about reaching the goal that he and his teammates had talked about since winter conditioning work began last January.
The Mustangs had been derailed two years in a row by the eventual national champion, St. Francis, by a 42-35 score in the 2016 quarterfinals and a 43-36 game in last year’s semiifinals.
Since his mother was the sister of head coach Steve Ryan, Seth had been attending Morningside games since he was a young child. He’d watched his uncle coach 15 straight playoff appearances, nine conference championships and a national runner-up finish in 2012 in a 30-27 overtime loss to Marian University in the finals.
So, Seth was as happy for his uncle as he was in his own sense of accomplishment as he was surrounded by family after the game Saturday night in Daytona Stadium.
“I felt great for him,” Seth said. “I’ve been following Morningside my whole life, with him being my uncle. To see him get so close so many times, and finally get it. And the other coaches, too, with all of the hours they put into it looking at film and running practices. To see them achieve this goal, it felt great. I really wanted to get this for him.”
In December 2013 I stood in Williams Stadium in Des Moines with about three layers under my Hawkeye parka, covering receiver Alan Smith of Creston and the Morningside Mustangs against Grand View in the NAIA semifinal round. It was 8 degrees at kickoff.
The few times I took my gloves off to work with my camera, I swear I was close to frostbite. How those guys played in football uniforms with maybe a shirt with sleeves underneath, I have no idea.
Grand View won that game. Briar Evans was also on Morningside teams that made semifinal appearances, before knee injuries derailed his career. He was a J-back on some explosive Mustang offenses like this year’s exciting squad led by quarterback Trent Solsma and receiver Connor Niles, who played as Bishop Heelan seniors in a 45-7 playoff victory over the Panthers in 2013.
So, a lot of old scores were settled when Maitlen and this year’s Mustangs left the field as champions Saturday night. With Morningside trailing 20-14 at half and tied 28-28 late in the fourth quarter, I was starting to wonder if this would be another case of coming close, but no cigar.
These Mustangs weren’t to be denied.
“I don’t think anyone on our sideline was ever doubting,” Maitlen said Monday as he enjoyed some down time at home in Creston. “We always believed we were going to pull it off.”
Soon, the 2019 edition of the Mustang football team will be back in the weight room, working toward another championship.
“Everyone’s goal is to repeat,” he said. “We’ll starting lifting and running in January to get ready for a new season. We know that this time, we’re the ones with a target on our back.”
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