Joe Dolincheck had big shoes to fill in taking over as Morningside’s starting quarterback this season.
But coach Steve Ryan was comfortable. He knew the work Dolincheck and his predecessor, Trent Solsma, put in last year would make for a smoother transition.
“Trent was fabulous with Joe,” said Ryan, whose top-ranked Mustangs (11-0) host St. Xavier (9-2) in an NAIA quarterfinal at noon Saturday. “Trent did a great job working with his tempo and how things flow during a game. And he showed how to be a leader.”
Solsma set nearly every passing record in school history. As a senior last season, he was the national player of the year, when he threw for nearly 5,400 yards and an NAIA-record 72 touchdowns while leading the Mustangs to their first national title.
But Dolincheck is no stranger to running a high-octane offense.
In 2017, he threw for 2,986 yards and 40 touchdowns for Bellevue West. He then was Solsma’s backup and played in nine games. Dolincheck threw 34 passes for 227 yards last season, but Solsma helped groom him for what was to come in 2019 and beyond.
“To have that happen, you need one player to be a mentor but also the other needs to be willing to learn,” Ryan said.
Dolincheck has put those lessons to good use.
He’s completed 67.6% of his passes for 3,361 yards and 36 touchdowns this season. In Morningside’s 57-14 playoff-opening win last week against Dickinson State, Dolincheck was 26 of 35 for 346 yards and four touchdowns.
It was the sixth time he’s thrown for at least 300 yards in a game.
“He runs the offense very well,” Ryan said. “And he’s got a humble demeanor and puts the team before himself.”
Ryan said this season’s been a “perfect world” for Dolincheck to ease into a starting lineup that returned most of its top skill players. The Mustangs already have two 1,000-yard receivers in Wahoo Neumann graduate Reid Jurgensmeier, who has 53 catches for 1,117 yards and 13 TDs, and Lincoln Southwest’s Bo Els (68 catches, 1,000 yards, 11 TDs).
And in the backfield with Dolincheck is junior running back Arnijae Ponder, an Omaha Burke grad who broke the school’s career rushing record last Saturday. He has 1,565 yards this season and more than 3,800 for his career.
“He’s been very good,” Ryan said. “He’s a fabulous back.”
Saturday will be the fifth time since 2012 that Morningside has faced St. Xavier in the playoffs. Morningside has won all four previous meetings, including in 2017 (52-7) and last year (51-14).
St. Xavier knocked off Northwestern 25-20 last weekend and has won eight straight.
The Cougars move the ball through the air. Alex Martinez has thrown for 3,560 yards this season.