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Morningside running back Arnijae Ponder has rushed for 636 yards and nine touchdowns this season. The Mustangs lead the NAIA in total offense (631.6 yards per game) and points (59.6).

When Morningside put up 709 yards of offense against Hastings on Sept. 29, it turned out the Mustangs were just getting started.

The NAIA’s top-ranked team amassed 832 yards against Midland two weeks ago and 819 last week against Doane.

“(The numbers are) crazy, but when you look around and see the guys that we have and how they practice and then you go to a game and see how they perform, I see why we put up those kind of numbers,” Morningside running back Arnijae Ponder said.

Ponder, who was a 1,000-yard rusher for Omaha Burke two years ago, has been doing his part for the Mustangs.

Ponder has rushed for more than 100 yards the past three games, including last week’s 152-yard effort on a career-high 30 carries. On the season, he has 636 yards and nine touchdowns.

“He’s an outstanding ballcarrier, but there’s a lot of things he can do,” Morningside coach Steve Ryan said. “He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he blocks well for us.”

The Mustangs will look for another all-around effort from Ponder when they face No. 3 Northwestern at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Ponder said establishing the run against the Red Raiders (6-0) is the first priority for Morningside (7-0). Northwestern’s defense is allowing 122 yards rushing and 17.2 points per game.

“We always want to run the ball because that opens up our pass game,” Ponder said.

And with quarterback Trent Solsma, Morningside’s passing attack has been nearly unstoppable. Solsma is completing 75 percent of his passes, has thrown for 2,922 yards, 37 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Morningside’s offense leads the NAIA in scoring (59.6 points per game) and total offense (631.6 yards a game).

“It’s pretty fun,” Ponder said of playing in an offense averaging 7.9 yards per play. “It’s a fast-paced offense. In high school, we ran a spread offense and it’s good against another team because we catch them off balance.”

Ponder said Burke and Morningside’s offenses are similar, “that’s why I think it’s easy for me to adapt. It’s kind of coached the same.”

As a freshman last season, Ponder was the backup to 2,000-yard rusher Bubba Jenkins. Ponder rushed for 598 yards and was groomed for the starting role.

“I feel like I’ve learned more and I’ve kind of figured out the game,” he said. “I feel I just progressed as a player.”

Saturday's games

Fort Hays State (5-2) at UNK (4-3), 11 a.m.: The Lopers dug themselves an early 21-point hole before hanging tough in a 27-13 loss to Northwest Missouri last week, now they play defending MIAA champ Hays. Darrius Webb leads UNK’s ground attack with 593 yards, while QB Jacob Mezera became Hays’ career leader in passing yards (7,083) and passing TDs (56) last week. DB Connor Shedeed, a Gretna graduate, leads Hays in interceptions (3) and is second in tackles (52).

Peru State (2-5) at William Penn (3-4), noon: Peru State looks to rebound after losing the last two weeks to No. 16 Baker and No. 7 Grand View. Peru’s offense is averaging 299.1 yards per game. William Penn is coming off a 24-21 win over Culver-Stockton, clinching the win with a last-minute defensive stand. Peru beat William Penn 17-14 last year.

Dixie State (5-2) at Chadron State (4-2), noon: Chadron had a bye week after its 65-62 loss at Adams State. Coach Jay Long said the bye week came at a good time, helping CSC rest and heal up. Kevin Coy has rushed for 497 yards, while Dalton Holst has thrown for 1,436 yards and 13 TDs. He threw five against Adams State. Defensively, CSC is allowing 30.7 points a game.

Hastings (3-4) at Concordia (3-3), 1 p.m.: Hastings’ four losses have been to teams with a combined 21-6 record, and the Broncos would like to get on track before facing No. 3 Northwestern next week. Both teams have had their offensive struggles: Concordia averages 15.8 points a game and Hastings 17.0. Lane Napier recorded 22 tackles for Concordia last week and is tied for fourth in the NAIA, averaging 12.8 tackles a game.

Briar Cliff (5-2) at Doane (3-3), 1: Doane leads this series 11-2, but Briar Cliff is going for a piece of history — the Chargers have never won more than five games in a season. Doane looks to snap a three-game losing streak and shake off last week’s 69-7 loss to No. 1 Morningside. Doane’s Jack Kalina has thrown for 1,173 yards and 12 TDs, while Chayton Crow leads Doane’s defense with 54 tackles.

Jamestown (2-5) at Dordt (4-2), 1: Jamestown, averaging 17.6 points per game, needs to slow down Dordt, which is averaging 42.2 points. Dordt has won three of four and has a game-breaking receiver in Levi Jungling, who has 29 catches for 585 yards. Jamestown was off last week after upending Briar Cliff on Oct. 6.

Dakota Wesleyan (1-6) at Midland (5-2), 1: Midland comes off a 36-15 win over Hastings and wants to keep the momentum going — its final three games are against teams that are .500 or better. Omaha North grad Payton Nelson threw for 298 yards and three TDs for Midland last week and now has 1,506 yards passing and a team-best 455 rushing. Wyatt Tremayne leads Midland’s defense with 53 tackles. Wesleyan is on a five-game losing streak.

Luther (1-5) at Nebraska Wesleyan (1-6), 1: Wesleyan’s Shaka Taylor is 39 yards from becoming the program’s leading rusher. Taylor, a Norfolk Lutheran grad, has 2,439 career yards after running for a season-high 210 last week. Wesleyan looks to snap a five-game losing streak against Luther, which beat Buena Vista 41-26 last week for its first win.

Wayne State (1-6) at Minot State (1-6), 1: Last week’s overtime defeat stretched Wayne’s losing streak to five. But LB Tyler Thomsen and WR Nate Rogers have thrived. Thomsen has recorded at least 10 tackles five times this season and leads the NSIC in tackles, while Nate Rogers leads the conference in receiving yards (754) and has had four 100-yard receiving games. 

Northwest Missouri (6-1) at Lindenwood (3-4), 1: Northwest, leader in the MIAA by one game, continues to play outstanding defense as it is second in Division II in scoring defense (10.6 points per game). Lindenwood’s offense averages 33 points a game. Northwest QB Braden Wright, an Elkhorn South grad, leads all Division II freshmen in points responsible for with 120.

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Gene covers a variety of sports beats for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @geneOWH. Phone: 402-444-1038.

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