HOSTING NO. 1: Jimmies set to face top-ranked Mustangs
University of Jamestown's college football season comes to a close Saturday afternoon hosting top-ranked Morningside (Iowa) at Rollie Greeno Field.
As crazy as it might sound, the Jimmies (3-7) could have something for the Mustangs (10-0) starting at noon. Jamestown turned a complete 180 degrees on Nov. 3 in Hastings, Neb., en route to a 41-39 victory over the Hastings College Broncos and Great Plains Athletic Conference offensive player of the week honors for quarterback Jordan Mann.
A re-energized Jimmies will be taking the field in front of their home fans for one final game and with nothing to lose. What's more scary than that?
"Playing with nothing to lose I think will be our biggest motive this week," reiterated Mann, who tallied 315 total yards of offense and four touchdowns against Hastings. "Letting the game happen and playing with high energy, and at our highest level, will put us in the best spot to be successful."
Mann explained energy, or lack thereof, was a major theme while breaking down the Jimmies' last performance at Rollie Greeno. The junior quarterback was sacked 11 times on Oct. 27 in a disappointing 41-21 loss to Dakota Wesleyan.
Seven days later, the Jimmie offensive line didn't allow a single sack, giving Mann and the offense time to rack up a season-high 512 yards. Mann passed for 189 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while also rushing for 126 yards and two more scores.
"We set the tone early, which we've talked about all year. If we can play with the lead, or play within striking distance, we can do what we want to do offensively and we're better," said Jimmie head football coach Josh Kittell, as the Jimmies led Hastings 14-3 in the first quarter and never trailed. "I thought Jordan did a really nice job of making quick decisions. He was able to get out of the pocket and make some positive plays that we didn't have the week before."
Mann will be remembered as the first Jimmie football player to be honored with GPAC offensive player of the week accolades, but the narrative has obviously already switched to Morningside.
"I'm more than humbled by it," Mann said. "But we still have a game to play."
There's no sugarcoating what Jamestown is up against Saturday afternoon. The Mustangs just locked up their eighth consecutive GPAC conference championship and are leading the nation in total offense (606.9) and defense (224.2) per game.
The Mustangs possess arguably the best receiver in the NAIA in junior first team All-American Connor Niles. Niles holds the NAIA career record in receiving touchdowns with 61 and counting, and is averaging over 10 receptions and 183 yards per contest. He's found the end zone 23 times in 2018.
The man throwing Niles the football is senior quarterback Trent Solsma. He's only thrown for 3,794 yards and 51 touchdowns in 10 games. And, sophomore running back Arnijae Ponder (118.1 rushing yards per game, 17 total TDs) is riding a six-game streak of 100 or more rushing yards.
The Jimmies have recently been up against similar talent. Jamestown experienced eventual two-time defending NAIA national champion St. Francis (Ind.) at home in Week 2 of 2017, falling 55-7. Morningside has been ranked inside the NAIA's top 25 for 147 consecutive weeks.
"We've got to put a product on the field we can be proud of, and not consume ourselves with the outcome," Kittell said. "We played St. Francis a year ago for this opportunity. We know what it's like to face the No. 1 team in the country, and hopefully the experience of doing that from the guys who played in that game will show a little bit on Saturday."
Cornerback Xavier Spann (5) and safety Deion Clayborne (3) lead Morningside's defensive secondary with eight combined interceptions. Junior linebacker Joel Katzer leads the Mustangs with 73 total tackles and has produced 4 1/2 quarterback sacks.
Jamestown linebacker Caleb Ellingson recorded a relatively quiet day against Hastings with 7 total tackles, 2 1/2 for lost yardage. But the senior is still ranked inside the NAIA's top 10 in tackles per game at No. 9 averaging 11 takedowns.
Jamestown has faced the Mustangs once before at Rollie Greeno, back in 2007 when coach Kittell was under center. The Jimmies lost the opening-round NAIA playoff game to Morningside 45-14.
Sophomore running back Allen Jevning is coming off his first 100-yard rushing performance of the season (111) for the Jimmies, and freshman receiver Barry Williams Jr. has hauled in touchdown receptions in two successive weeks.
"I've been talking about the leaders this team has and our eight seniors all year. They stepped up again and led," Kittell said of last week's victory. "We still made mistakes, and there were still things we need to learn from, but we played hard and our intensity was there.
"We were locked in, we were focused and it was a good weekend all the way around. We'll give Morningside our best shot."