It's week eight of GPAC football and two the six remaining undefeated teams in the NAIA will do battle for first place in the GPAC. #14 Hastings will host #4 Morningside. Both teams are 5-0 in league play and 6-0 overall. B. Lynn Fouts breaks down this game and the rest of the action in this week's GPAC Football Preview.
Last weekend saw the GPAC co-leaders expand their lead over their challengers to two games in the loss column. The 2012 GPAC crown may have come down to a two-horse race; ironically those two are Mustangs and Broncos. They meet in this week's GPAC highlight game. Doane was idle last Saturday while Hastings rallied to nip Midland 20-17 and Morningside kept their throttle open in a 63-7 win over previously ranked DWU. Nebraska Wesleyan started strong and beat Dordt 27-7, Concordia, behind Derek Blessing's third punt return for a score, upset #11 Northwestern 17-16 and Dakota State came from behind in the 4th quarter to win at BCU 35-28.
Midland at Mayville State for a noon start is an intriguing match-up. Midland has played solid in most games, losing a heartbreaker to ranked Hastings this past weekend. The Warriors will need to contend with the Comets' RB Dominique Bradley who has rushed for an average of 99 yards per game and six touchdowns. Midland quarterback Mike Karls had a solid outing last week going 20 for 29 for 140 yards and 62 on the ground. The Warrior defense held the Broncos to about 100 yards less than their average. Midland, after facing 4 ranked squads in a row, should find it easier going against a team who has yet to defeat a NAIA program on the year.
Briar Cliff had another lead slip through their fingers in the late going even though running back Robert Wilson had another strong outing with 88 yards rushing and two scores. Charger wide receiver Tyler McGhee grabbed five passes and gained 133 yards and a score, but the defense allowed nearly 500 yards to the Trojans. Against #18 Northwestern that is a danger zone. With quarterback Davis Bloemendahl under center, the Red Raiders are difficult team to defend, gaining 240 yards per game on the ground and 210 a game in the air. The defense played exceptional in the loss, but special team coverage has to be shorn up.
The conference game of the week rests in the league's farthest reaches to the west. #4 Morningside visits #14 Hastings in the final regular season meeting of undefeated NAIA teams (there are six undefeated teams left including these two). The Mustangs have parlayed a top ranked defense with a big play offense to keep the opposition at bay. With the defense allowing just 5.2 points per game the offense has been able to play with house money on occasion, piling up some large figures including 42 points per game. The Broncos also have big numbers on offense, second in scoring behind Morningside at 33 an outing. With quarterback John Dostal leading them, Hastings may have the most potent offense the Mustangs have seen. On defense Hastings is third in the league in points allowed and should have enough quickness to challenge the Joel Nixon led visitors. This could be for the league title and certainly for positioning in the post season.
Concordia brings its four game winning streak to Lincoln for a contest with the Prairie Wolves. This is the shortest of the old NIAC rivalries, but still its game number 51 between the two with NWU holding a 32-18-0 lead in the series. The Bulldogs, behind Derek Blessing's third punt return for TD this fall, upset Northwestern 17-16 to stake a claim in the first division with a 3-2 league mark. Nebraska Wesleyan downed Dordt 27-7 as linebacker Seth Wardyn returned a pick 65 yards for the opening score of the game. These two are very evenly matches at Abel Stadium on Saturday.
Dakota State grabbed its first win on the season last weekend over Briar Cliff and now heads to Dordt looking for a winning streak of its own. The Defenders will need to keep Trojan quarterback Brandon Large off the field as he is ranked third in the NAIA in passing and total offense. Dordt can counter with the nation's 14th ranked run game at 215 yards per game. Churning out first downs may be the best defense Dordt can use. Linebacker Seth Vande Voort heads up the defense with over ten tackles per game and hopes to create enough havoc that Large never gets comfortable as the Defenders go for their first win in 2012.
In the GPAC's only night game, #20 Doane travels to Dakota Wesleyan in the annual Battle of the Tigers. This game was closely contested last fall in Crete when Doane pulled out a 33-28 win after both teams scored touchdowns in the final minute and twenty-six seconds. This year's game should be as exciting as the teams are close in statistical categories. Doane had the week off and brings in a solid offensive unit putting up 26 points per game. The defense is 4th in the league, allowing 21 points an outing. DWU counters with a 28 points per game offensive average but drops down the rankings a bit on defense giving up 30 points an outing. Both teams like to throw behind their junior signal callers; Doane's Jeff Weander and DWU's Jonathan Bane.